B. ELIZABETH Furey has a will of steel, as anyone knows who has watched her battle cancer these past six years.
On Thursday, her will was only strengthened when she learned that Chestnut Hill College will let her participate in commencement ceremonies May 12.
Surprisingly, she’s not sure if she’ll accept the offer.
“I so dearly appreciate and am grateful that the administration at Chestnut Hill is providing an exception for me to walk at commencement ceremonies,” she told me after she got the good news.
“However, I am struggling with whether I should walk. It seems like I should not be the exception but that the policy should be overturned completely. I don’t want students who come after me — the Erics, Annes and Adriennes of the world — to suffer from the same inflexibility.”
For those who didn’t catch my column Thursday, Furey, 28, is three credits shy of her master’s degree in clinical and counseling psychology. She will finish them in July and wanted to participate in Chestnut Hill’s commencement. But the college turned her down, citing its policy forbidding anyone to walk until all their credits are completed.
Furey, though, has a rare, deadly and unpredictable form of Hodgkin’s lymphoma — a blood cancer — and fears it may prevent her from attending next year’s commencement. So she wanted to walk this year, while she could. Not just in recognition of her academic accomplishment but in honor of three friends and fellow Hodgkin’s patients — Eric, Anne and Adrienne — who didn’t live to complete their own master’s degrees.
But Chestnut Hill wouldn’t budge when Furey asked administrators to let her walk.
When my column about Furey hit print Thursday, reader reaction was intense. But not as intense, apparently, as the reaction Chestnut Hill got from students, faculty and outsiders who advocated for her.
As a result of the public outcry, “We had a change of heart,” says college spokeswoman Katheen Spigelmyer.
“We decided to make a special exception because [Furey] is a special case,” she says. “This was never about not recognizing her accomplishment. It was about not appearing to give a degree to someone who hadn’t earned it.
“We admire her spirit. She’s an inspiration to a lot of people and we are willing to make a special exception for her.”
But, Furey wonders, what about future Chestnut Hill students who find themselves in similar predicaments? Will their stories have to wind up in the press before school administrators will be as reasonable as they are being now, in her “exceptional” case?
Why not change the policy, she wonders, to one more in line with the majority of schools, which allow students to participate in graduation ceremonies if they are a few scant credits shy of a degree?
“This has to become about more than me,” says Furey. “I think it’s a matter of fairness.”
Contact Ronnie Polaneczky at firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-854-2217, or follow on Twitter @RonniePhilly. For recent columns, go to philly.com/Ronnie; blog at philly.com/RonnieBlog