The seniors of Profile Junior-Senior High School in Bethlehem, New Hampshire, unanimously decided to cancel their long-planned class trip so they can give nearly $8,000 to their principal, Courtney Vashaw, who is battling synovial sarcoma, a rare aggressive form of soft-tissue cancer.
The high school seniors had spent four years raising the money through bake sales and homecoming activities, and were planning a four-day trip of relaxation and fun to the Rydin’ Hy Adirondack Ranch Resort in upstate New York. But when the principal revealed earlier this month that she was battling cancer, they voted unanimously to cancel the trip and give her the money instead to help her with any medical expenses she may incur.
While surrounded by fellow seniors, Ian Baker, senior class treasurer, revealed to Vashaw, “We decided to not go on our senior class trip this year and donate all of our funds to your cause.”
“It is very hard for me to accept help, and I have no idea what to say to you,” an emotional Vashaw replied.
“She’s just very caring, very selfless, and we wanted to be selfless, too,” Baker told WMUR.
“Every one of us has a connection with her, and she has given so much to us that we just wanted to give back,” Christopher Sirois, senior class president, explained.
“I was just absolutely floored,” Vashaw told the New York Daily News. “I feel so honored, so touched. It’s absolutely astounding.”
The students say they will still take a trip, but it will be a one-night local one rather than the 4 night trip to New York.
“I was just astounded by their generosity,” Vashaw told Today.com on Wednesday, a day after the students gathered with her to announce their gift. “I know how hard they worked to try to plan a good last hurrah. For them to make that decision is really a testimonial to the character of the kids.”
Vashaw, who served as assistant principal at the public school for five years before rising to the top job two years ago, says that as an educator, “you’re never really sure if your message sinks in.”
“You plant the seeds and hope they flourish but you don’t often get to see the fruits of that labor for a long time,” she says. “It’s pretty remarkable to see that something stuck. Before they even have to make those adult decisions, they’re already doing remarkable things.”
In late April, Vashaw, 37, who lives with her partner and 2-year-old son, had a tumor removed from under her left arm and was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma two weeks later.
Because May is such a busy month with exams, she waited as long as she could to inform the students of her illness, holding an emotional meeting last week to tell the seventh through twelfth graders of her uncertain days ahead.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Vashaw said.
Soon, several seniors eating breakfast during senior skip day came up with the donation idea, which they shared on their class Facebook page. On Friday, the tight-knit senior class voted unanimously to give all their funds to Vashaw and take a smaller trip close to home.
The money her students raised over the last four years through bake sales and homecoming activities, Vashaw says, gives her peace of mind.
“Hopefully, I’m in a situation where I don’t even have to access these funds but it’s amazing to think they might be available if they’re needed,” she said.
“I will never be able to pay them back,” she says of these seniors, “but it is my full intent to pay it forward.”
Even after the seniors graduate high school, they are planning to continue fundraising for their principal by holding a vintage car rally this summer.
School alumni also wanted to help out their former principal, so they have set up a GoFundMe page that has raised nearly $4,000 had been raised as of Friday evening.