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Chesterfield student not allowed to honor deceased mother at graduation

Posted at 7:10 PM, May 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-04 22:08:51-04

CHESTERFIELD, Va. --Beaming with pride, Shaye Powell shows off her maroon and gray graduation cap and gown; she said that June 9 is etched in her mind and heart.

As the big day draws near, the Thomas Dale Senior can’t wait to share the moment with her family. It’ll be bittersweet, though.

It’s going to be a day without her biggest cheerleader, her mom Carena. She passed away from breast cancer in 2005 at the age of 29.

"It has been a hard battle losing a mom,” Powell said.

This milestone is something the teen has always wanted to share with her mom. To honor her memory, Powell would like to decorate her graduation cap and tip her hat to the heavens when she strolls across the stage to accept her diploma.

Shay recently learned that can’t happen, so she’s taking a stand.

“They always teach us to take a stand for what you believe in,” Powell explained. “Make a change in a tasteful and respectful way and not only do something to help you, but to benefit other people as well.”

Shaye Powell shows off her maroon and gray graduation cap and gown.

Shaye Powell shows off her maroon and gray graduation cap and gown.

The teen is now working on a Free to Be Me petition. She wants county school leaders to change a policy that for 15 years has prohibited graduates from decorating their caps.

“Whether it's to recognize a deceased loved one or to celebrate the college that you're going to, or to thank parents for helping me get this far,” Powell said.

Since her mom died, Powell has raised awareness about breast cancer. She was even highlighted in her school yearbook.

Just like those efforts, this mission has become dear to Shay’s heart. With head held high, she plans to give it her all, just like mom taught her.

“She had a saying: never let your head down, for you may drop your crown.”

“That has stuck with me and helped me to grow through the years,” Powell said. “I’ve had different accomplishments and I know she would be proud of me for standing up for what I believe in and making a difference.”

She said she’s in a race against the clock to collect as many signatures as she can on her petition.

The Thomas Dale student wants to present it to school leaders in the coming days. She said she’s willing to go as far as she has too. Next, Powell said she would like to speak to the Chesterfield School Board about this issue.