Brad McMorris thought his ailing father, Ronald McMorris, might not witness the special moment of him receiving his diploma from Southeastern Louisiana University.
But McMorris, 65, got to see it happen after all, thanks to the university’s president, John Crain. At Brad’s request, Crain drove out to the family’s home south of the town of Livingston on Thursday to hand him his diploma in front of his father.
Weakened by non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and leukemia, Ronald McMorris simply wasn’t able travel to Hammond for his son’s graduation, which would have been Saturday.
Brad McMorris, 35, said he was surprised when Crain said he would come to the house to present him with his diploma.
“We didn’t even think there was any way he would be able to come,” McMorris said.
McMorris described his father as a caring man who would help anybody in their small community. He was a cost engineer for BASF in Geismar and worked as a deacon at Colyell Baptist Church.
About 12 years ago — on Sept. 11, 2001 — the McMorrises found out Ronald had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the blood. The disease, which has been in and out of remission for McMorris, has run in his family.
McMorris began feeling ill again about a year ago. Blood work confirmed he had contracted leukemia.
Doctors told McMorris the treatment process would be long and arduous. McMorris questioned whether he should even take it on.
“They told him it would be a long journey, but he didn’t want to let his family and friends down,” Brad McMorris said.
McMorris has undergone round after round of chemotherapy. He takes regular trips to the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, including a recent visit for a stem cell transplant.
Brad McMorris said his father is doing better, but everyday activities are still difficult for him.
“At his age, it’s hard on his body,” Brad McMorris said. “He has like no muscle definition or anything now.”
Brad McMorris eventually moved back home to help his father and mother. He lives in an apartment attached to his parents’ house.
“I cut the grass. My dad can’t even go outside,” he said.
Brad McMorris was building houses for a living several years ago when he suffered a heat stroke and three heat exhaustions. Enough was enough, so he decided to enroll at Southeastern Louisiana University to study multimedia journalism. He hopes to work in the radio business.
Brad McMorris said his father, himself a Southeastern alumnus, had always wanted to see him graduate. His brother and sister also attended the university.
McMorris came up with the idea of asking Crain to visit Colyell for a quick but meaningful ceremony. He said he contacted university officials about a month ago to explain his situation and float the idea of Crain coming over.
It wasn’t hard to convince Crain to do it. The McMorris’s story resonated with him.
When Crain was earning his doctorate, his own grandfather was ill and could not leave his nursing home. His grandfather was an advocate of his grandson’s higher education but didn’t get to see Crain receive his diploma.
“It’s such a huge thing for family when someone is earning a degree,” Crain said. “I’m a huge advocate of doing whatever we can for the benefit of our students.”
Crain made the 30-minute drive to Colyell, the small town south of Livingston where the McMorris family resides. He couldn’t stay long, bogged down by a busy week of myriad graduation ceremonies.
“He told me he couldn’t stay but 10 or so minutes,” Brad McMorris said. “I said, ‘Look, that’s kind enough of you just to even come out here.’ He was really nice.”
Crain’s visit was planned without Ronald McMorris’ knowledge, said Angie McMorris Cornett, Brad McMorris’s sister.
Family members told Ronald McMorris they were gathering to go out to eat to celebrate Brad’s graduation.
Then Crain walked into their home, much to McMorris’ surprise.
“My dad’s like, ‘OK? Hello?’” Cornett joked. “He was not sure what’s going on.”
The ceremony was informal. Crain met with the McMorrises before presenting Brad his diploma.
“I couldn’t stop snapping pictures because I wanted to capture the moment,” Cornett said. “I was very proud, of course, to see my brother receive his diploma and very proud of the humanity of Dr. Crain.”
Crain said he has never been asked for such a request — let alone granted one.
“It was one of those kinds of things where you think, ‘Well, I’ve never done this before, so I don’t know how this is going to work exactly,’” Crain said. “But I got there, and it certainly made me feel good. I felt like that it was an important thing to do for Brad and his family.”
In a flash, Crain was gone, off to complete other graduation activities.
But for the McMorris family, that moment meant the world.
“I never thought it was going to happen in front of my dad,” Brad McMorris said. “To see the look in his face was just worth everything.”
Cornett applauded both Crain’s kindness and her brother’s decision to reach out to the university president.
“When I received my master’s degree at Southeastern, my dad ... could not go to that graduation,” Cornett said. “It never occurred to me to try to get the president of the college to come give it to me.”