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University bumps up graduation date for student with dying father


by: Crystal Bonvillian, Cox Media Group National Content Desk

CHAMPLIN, Minn. – Ken Brown’s dying wish was to see his son, Collin, graduate from the University of Minnesota.

When university officials learned that the Champlin man, who is dying of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), was not likely to survive until his son’s May graduation date, they decided to do something special for him, according to KARE-TV in Minneapolis. They brought the graduation to him, two months early.

Brown is in the late stages of ALS, with which he was diagnosed four years ago, during Collin Brown’s freshman year.

“It’s been a big formative part of all of my college years,” Collin Brown said. “So I think it’s a good kind of end and conclusion to all of that.”

University of Minnesota president Eric Kaler hosted the makeshift ceremony, attended by a few dozen people, on Monday at the Browns’ home. KARE-TV, which was there for the occasion, reported that Kaler’s voice cracked as he welcomed Ken Brown and the other guests to the ceremony.

“I’m really glad we were able to do it for the family,” Kaler told the news station. “I know it means a lot to them.”


Ken Brown saw his daughter, Keegan, graduate from the university two years ago. He wanted to live long enough to watch Collin walk across the stage, as well.

Doctors don’t believe that he will live until May, his wife, Patti Brown, said.

“The hospice doctor thought that it would be about Easter, and May would be a stretch,” Patti Brown said.

Ken Brown said he would be at the May commencement ceremony, in which Collin still plans to participate, if he lives that long.

ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a progressive degeneration of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. As the motor neurons that control muscle movement throughout the body die, the patient loses the ability to move, speak, eat and breathe.

According to the ALS Association, the average life expectancy after diagnosis is three years. About 20 percent of patients live five years, 10 percent live 10 years and 5 percent live 20 years or more.

An example of someone in that 5 percent is famed theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, who was diagnosed with the disease in 1963.

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