Her personal commencement

August 13, 2003|by MARLO BARNHART

Two months ago, 87 of the 88 members of the Clear Spring High School Class of 2003 graduated. Tuesday night, the final diploma was awarded to Karen Ann Worthington, who fought hard to finally cross that stage.

More than 200 friends mingled with family and nearly half of her fellow graduates to celebrate her life after a near-fatal auto accident on June 10.

"I never expected this," Worthington said, choking back tears. "All of you seem like family to me now. Thanks for making my life great."


As people entered the school for the ceremony, each was handed a printed graduation program that announced a "Special Commencement Service for Karen Ann Worthington."

With only a few days notice, 38 members of the graduating class donned their caps and gowns for a second time to honor their classmate. They marched into the school auditorium to the strains of "Pomp and Circumstance," and listened to the co-valedictorians, Lauren Ebersole and Dustin Reichard, speak again with renewed zeal about courage and commitment.

"Two months ago, a small teddy bear and flowers marked Karen's spot on this stage - she was fighting for her life in Baltimore then," said Clear Spring High School Principal Martin Green.

"Tonight, we will conclude the longest graduation ceremony in which I've ever been involved."

W. Princeton Young, a member of the Washington County Board of Education, told Worthington he understands how difficult the last two months have been. He recalled an accident he was in in 1977, after which doctors told him he'd never walk again.

"Karen will now be more determined to accomplish all she can," Young said.

Worthington, 18, the daughter of John and Linda Worthington, was driving her Ford Escort toward Williamsport on the evening of June 10 when the driver of a pickup pulled out from a tavern on U.S. 40 into her path, according to police reports.

All three bones in her right leg were broken. Her badly damaged spleen had to be removed. Her liver was severely lacerated, but doctors saved enough of the vital organ to ensure her survival.

"I had a punctured lung and tears in my stomach, too," Worthington said in a recent interview.

During her month at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center, she underwent 14 procedures, including five major surgeries and needed more than 50 units of blood. Despite all the injuries - some of which were caused by the seat belt - she was spared any spinal injuries or head trauma.

The reason Worthington was on the road that night was related to the impending June 12 graduation ceremony.

"I was taking a graduation ticket to my Latin teacher, Tootie Ridenour, who teaches at Smithsburg High but lives in Williamsport," Worthington said.

While she knew there was going to be some sort of presentation Tuesday night, Worthington was surprised to find her former high school filled with well-wishers.

Worthington said she is determined she will begin her freshman year at the University of Maryland Baltimore County in the fall.

A member of the National Honor Society, Worthington ranked seventh in her class.

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