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DeKalb graduates still writing their stories

DeKALB – Jonathon Bell’s walk across the graduation stage Saturday may inspire potential organ donors. 

Bell, who graduated with 350 classmates of DeKalb High School on Saturday at Northern Illinois University's Convocation Center, received a heart transplant at age 12 after finding out he had cardiomyopathy, a “virus that just attacked my heart,” he said.

Bits and pieces of his story since then will be used in a promotional video about organ donation for Gift of Hope. Bell said the organization, which provides education and coordinates organ and tissue donation, will show the video in driver’s education classrooms. He has had a crew from Gift of Hope visit the school, and they also plan to interview him in his home. The video will include his high school graduation.

“My family thinks I’m a positive influence because of this,” Bell said. “They are proud of me. I leaned toward sports when other people wouldn’t have, and they think I’m strong for doing that.”

Bell participated in football and track during his time at DeKalb. He has played football since a young age. 

“I definitely think sports played a huge part in my recovery,” Bell said. “I turned 13 in the hospital. When I was in the hospital all I wanted to do was play football with my friends.”

He said he hopes people who see the video realize it's important to be an organ donor. Now that he's a graduate, he's ready to see what's next for him.

At the graduation ceremony, students and administrators spoke about how each student’s life is a story, and high school is just one chapter.

Student speaker Evan Guest said in “the book of you, in the chapter titled High School,” the story began 1,383 days ago. He said it’s up to students to find their passions so their stories will be bestsellers. Guest said if the graduates find passion in life and execute it, nothing will stop them.

“What if 50 years from now students at DeKalb high are reading your story?” Guest said. “Would the book be filled with action and interesting stories, or would your story be so mundane that kids choose to read the SparkNotes instead?”

Principal Tamra Ropeter acknowledged the graduating class by their accomplishments. She listed off “talented music students,” “amazing athletes” and many academic achievements. 

“Whatever your story, don’t have any regrets,” Ropeter said. “Your time is limited, so don’t waste your story on someone else’s life. Don’t let the noise of other opinions drown out your story.”

As for Bell's story, he will continue to participate in track when he attends Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin, this fall. He plans to study criminal justice.  

“I’m definitely excited about graduating,” Bell said. “More excited than sad, that’s for sure.”

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