Persistence, practice create perfect ending

Published May 27, 2007

HUDSON - Nearly two months ago, she began to practice.

Rise. Shake with the right hand. Reach with the left.

Once she dreamed of college and maybe law school. But those dreams seem luxuriously abstract in a life now built around more immediate and specific goals.

Rise. Shake with the right hand. Reach with the left: All Sarah Klein-Malarik wanted Friday night was to get her diploma like every other Hudson High School graduate did.

Junior year, 2004, she was a chatty blonde cheerleader who jutted her hip out and blew kisses in photographs. But one afternoon, driving out of the school, she pulled in front of another car.

Doctors told her family to say goodbye before the first operation. The brain injury was too severe. No one thought she would make it. She did. Then they told the family she'd never move her right arm again. She did.

"She's defeated every odd the doctors gave her," said her mother, Dawn Smith.

She is paralyzed. She can eat only pureed food. She understands what people say though she can talk only through a computerized device. But she laughs. A lot.

Sarah returned to Hudson High in its special education program a year after the accident. She typed essays and math problems and made A's. She set goals for herself, like getting her right hand to open and shut, standing up and leaning against a wall in therapy. She missed graduating with her class last year, so participating in this year's ceremony became her goal.

The school gave her a diploma holder to use in practice at her twice-a-week therapy classes. Her younger sister, Amy, and her therapist, Nicole Baisley, would help her. Most people at school didn't know she could stand.

On Friday, her mother fastened a gold chain with a "2007" charm around Sarah's neck. At school, she donned the red gown and cap.

Then like all the other students, she left the school building for the football stadium, her sister and therapist pushing her along on the windy evening. Waiting for all of them was a stadium filled with whistling, woo-hooing, picture-taking parents and friends.

Her classmates tossed frisbees and beachballs during principal David LaRoche's remarks.

Class valedictorian Gregory Bopp spoke of the decisions her classmates made over the last four years. "Each of us made our own sacrifices to make sure we crossed this stage," he said.

Salutatorian Dayana Bermudez talked about persistence. "Life ends when we stop dreaming and stop setting goals," she said.

And then about 8:30 p.m., Sarah's sister and therapist pushed her wheelchair toward the stage. Her name was called. She was helped to her feet. She shook with the right hand. Reached with the left. The other graduates were rising, too, and clapping, for her.

Fast Facts:

Hudson High School

Graduates: 285.

Bright Futures Scholars: 68.

Total scholarships awarded: $1, 077, 750.

Artistic entrance: Class of 2007 donated a mural at the front entrance of the school.

Kick start: A senior-led girls soccer team made the play-offs for the first time in school history.