Elizabeth Schulze receives her diploma from Fairfield High School Principal Billy Smith during a special graduation ceremony Friday afternoon at the Fairfield High School’s community room. The graduated senior missed out on graduating with her classmates on May 28 at the Cintas Center due to an illness. She has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, an inherited genetic disorder that affect a person’s connective tissues.
Photo: Michael D. Pitman
Photo: Michael D. Pitman

Graduating Fairfield senior takes a walk years in the making

While the act is easy for most high school seniors, it was not for Schulze.

Amy Schulze said her daughter, who plans to attend Miami Hamilton and study forensic science before heading off to medical school, “is a very wise young woman.”

“She had a goal to be able to walk across the stage, and it took her seven years of (physical therapy) to be able to do that,” she said. “For seven years we’ve been thinking about getting that diploma and she’ worked so hard. She went from being able to not walk at all, having to be able to be in bed because both her hips were torn, to being able to walk today.”

Her father, Chuck Schulze, said Friday was “a culmination” of her daughter’s hard work as she progressed through to her senior year.

“She’s had a lot of obstacles and she’s overcome them,” he said.

The 18-year-old Schulze was born with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, an inherited genetic disorder that attacks a person’s connective tissues and can affect people differently. It’s a genetic disorder that her grandmother, mom and siblings all have to varying degrees. For Schulze, it’s attacked her joints, so bad that she was bedridden for a four years, until her eighth-grade year.

But she never let that stop her from living a productive life, including being an active member in her church, advocate for children suffering from chronic disease and co-writing a sci-fi fantasy novel, “Cursed Ones,” that was published in her sophomore year.

Though she said it “was devastating” she could not walk on graduation day, Schulze, who graduated with a 3.98 GPA, was okay with that fact.

“I’ve been working for 12 years to be able to do that, with my class,” she said after a special graduation ceremony held just for her on Friday. “Part of me was really crushed and another part of me was, ‘You know what, you still get your diploma no matter if you walk. I don’t necessarily have to do everything.”

But Friday afternoon’s ceremony “made it more special” of an event than walking with her classmates, she said.

After receiving her diploma from high school Principal Billy Smith, a red-eyed and tear-filled Schulze could only muster, “Thank you.” She quickly collected herself and with a quivering voice expressed her appreciation.

“I’ve been working on this for a very long time,” Schulze said. “To have this much support from not only my friends and family but the entire community, it’s incredible. Just thank you.”

And those emotionally charged tears turned into exuberant laughter when Fairfield Mayor Steve Miller made a surprise announcement proclaiming Saturday, June 4, 2016 as “Elizabeth Schulze Day” within the city.

Friday’s ceremony came to be when Fairfield High School Vice Principal Kyle Jamison learned just days before graduation day that Schulze was not physically able to walk to receive her diploma. He was “heartbroken.”

“You were missed on Saturday,” said Jamison, who was charged with overseeing the class of 2016. “And we wanted to do this to celebrate you. You have so many people, so many lives that you have touched.”

So the high school staff put together a ceremony to allow her to celebrate this rite of passage many high school students experience as they transition from youthful adolescence into adulthood. Several dozen people, including friends, family and community members, celebrated a day that parents Chuck and Amy Schulze said meant “everything.”

And for someone who’s been in and out of hospitals, and required the use of canes, walkers and-or wheelchairs, and has been confined to her bed, Jamison said Schulze has “always, always had a positive attitude.”

“She’s always made your life better just knowing her, and knowing the way she looks at the situations that she’s dealt with,” he said. “She has made the school a better place, she has made the lives in this room better.”

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