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York teen, battling cancer, inspired others by walking at graduation. ‘She never quit.’

Donzhane Smith, center, wearing the graduation mortar board hat, whose battle with cancer left her in a wheelchair, rose and walked across the stage for graduation from York Comprehensive High School in May. Smith died from cancer Saturday at age 18.
Donzhane Smith, center, wearing the graduation mortar board hat, whose battle with cancer left her in a wheelchair, rose and walked across the stage for graduation from York Comprehensive High School in May. Smith died from cancer Saturday at age 18. Contributed, York school district

On May 26, the last name to be read for the York Comprehensive High School graduation was Donzhane Smith.

The rest of the 357 teens’ names read were in alphabetical order. But Smith, nicknamed “Tinkerbell,” was last – because she was in a wheelchair.

Donzhane – pronounced Don-janay – Smith at age 17 was last because she had stomach cancer and was not supposed to be able to walk.

At 17, she had undergone chemotherapy days before graduation. Yet she refused to miss graduation at the Winthrop Coliseum in Rock Hill. She was wheeled to a riser near the stage. She sat to the side the whole ceremony, while her classmates were on the arena floor facing the stage. The other students walked and accepted diplomas.

Yet somehow, Donzhane Smith got up from her wheelchair that graduation day and walked across the stage. She walked slowly. Her hand shook, and she needed some guidance. But she walked.

The thousands in attendance rose. The 300-plus other students rose and cheered. The school board and school officials and everybody on stage stood. Thousands cried and clapped.

An arena cheered as that teen with cancer stepped across the stage instead of being pushed.

“Her classmates, everybody, they clapped for her,” recalled Donzhane’s father, Andre Good. “She had just done chemo. She was so weak. But she inspired herself. She fought and inspired her classmates. She inspired us all.”

Saturday, that fight ended. Donzhane Smith who was on the dance team, and had a smile that lit up a coliseum, died from cancer at age 18 at home in York.

“Her strength kept us going – it kept everybody going,” said Smith’s mother, Pamela Good. “She never quit. She wanted to walk that graduation stage. And she did.”

Donzhane Smith’s death over the weekend brought an outpouring of condolences on social media, including at Cotton Belt Elementary School where Donzhane went to grade school.

“This beautiful angel was once one of our little students of Cotton Belt. She graduated from York Comprehensive High School last year,” Cotton Belt posted on Facebook.

Visitation for Donzhane is from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at New Home AME Zion Church in York. The funeral is 2 p.m. Thursday.

After the May graduation ceremony, all of York talked about the teen who wanted to grow up and be a math teacher walked out of her wheelchair. Her death reminded all of a sick teen who had the courage to walk.

“The whole town thought it was great,” her father said of the May graduation walk. “It was great. It still is.”

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