Bullitt East High brings senior's graduation to the home of dying stepfather
Abigail Tucker knew it would take a miracle for her dying stepfather to watch her graduate from Bullitt East High School. That's when her principal, Willie Foster, took action, although he knew he was working against the clock.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Abigail Tucker knew it would take a miracle for her stepfather to watch her graduate from Bullitt East High School, especially when the family found out last week that Mike Underwood only had a short time left to live.
Underwood, whom Tucker calls "Daddy Mike," has been there "every step of the way since I was 2 years old," she said. He was diagnosed with cancer in January 2015 and was most recently hospitalized on May 16. Four days later, the family brought him home.
"He fought as hard as he could," said Tucker, 18. "But then we received the news that Mike didn't have much longer with us and chances were that he wouldn't be able to be here for my graduation on June 4."
And that's when Bullitt East principal Willie Foster decided to take action, although he knew he was working against the clock.
Around 8:30 p.m. Thursday night, Foster and a team of staff members from Bullitt East brought the graduation to the family's home in Mount Washington.
Tucker, wearing her red and gold cap and gown, received her diploma a few steps away from where Underwood lay in bed.
"Abigail Grace Tucker, it is my honor to present you with your diploma," Foster told her. "I present you as the very first graduate of Bullitt East High School, Class of 2016. Abby has met the requirements for graduation established by the Bullitt County Board of Education and the Commonwealth of Kentucky. As such, I ask that she move her tassle from the right side of her cap to the left. I now declare you an official graduate and alumni of Bullitt East."
Underwood was awake and smiling as he watched her pose for pictures. And then she reached over to give her "Daddy Mike" a big hug.
"I love you," she said to him, giving him a kiss on the top of his head and showing him her diploma. "Look, I did it!"
In response, "Daddy Mike" gave her a fist bump as her family clapped and wiped away tears.
Seven hours later -- 4 a.m. Friday morning -- Underwood died in his sleep. He was 57.
"We were all hoping he would make it to June 4, but when we realized that was not going to happen, we knew we had to do something," Foster told WDRB News in an interview, pausing for a moment to collect himself.
It was something Foster says he and his staff were able to pull together in about 30 minutes.
"At the end of the day, our kids are at the center of everything we do," Foster said. "Abby needed us and this was something we needed to do for her."
Tucker's mother, Lisa Sheppard-Underwood, was overwhelmed with gratitude after Foster and the Bullitt East staff showed up at her home. She made this post on Facebook:
"My precious husband is in the last hours of his life. He had set goals for himself, to be here when baby Raegan was born, to see his granddaughter Kaitlyn graduate from Southern (we watched her by FaceTime and he smiled when they called her name) and to see Abby graduate on June 4," she wrote. "He isn't going to be able to be with us on the 4th so, Willie Foster, and his amazing crew brought June 4th to Mike."
"I cannot thank you enough for the gift you all have given my family today," she wrote. "Abby will treasure this for the rest of her life. I'm sure that Mike feels like he has met his goals. You'll forever own a place in my heart for the kindness of your own, each one of you."
Tucker also took to Twitter, posting pictures from her impromptu graduation ceremony last night.
The last day of school for Bullitt County Schools is June 1.
Tucker, a cheerleader and member of the school's Future Business Leaders of America, will still take part in Bullitt East's graduation ceremony at Broadbent Arena on June 4.
On Friday morning, she tweeted a picture of "Daddy Mike" giving her a hug following a cheerleading event:
"I miss you so much already but if I could have the choice for someone to be watching over me, it would be you," she wrote.
Visitation for Underwood will be from 1-8 p.m. Monday in the chapel of Schoppenhorst, Underwood and Brooks Funeral Home in Mount Washington. His funeral will be held at noon on Tuesday at the funeral home.
OBITUARY | Michael Dane Underwood
Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.
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