FAIRFIELD, Ohio — First-grader Walter Herbert set an inspirational, land-speed record in academics Thursday by graduating through eight grades in a single school day while displaying high marks in the subject of bravery.
Young Walter — appropriately nicknamed “Superbubz” — is battling cancer.
Despite ailing from his struggle with high-risk, Stage 4 neuroblastoma, the spirited 6-year-old, who attends Central Elementary, told his parents and teachers he wanted to experience graduating through all 12 grades.
His wish began to transform into reality Thursday morning as he sat in on classrooms of grades two through five at his school and later grades six through eight at Fairfield’s Creekside Middle School.
“He really just loves coming to school. He loves riding the bus and eating lunch at school,” said Central Principal Karrie Gallo, who has lead the school district’s efforts to honor Walter and his wishes.
She glances toward the back of her office door where hangs a miniature, personalized school graduation cap and gown Walter will soon wear.
“Walter has so much energy and so much life and he is so humble about all the things he has gotten to experience over the last couple of weeks,” Gallo said as her eyes watered up.
“He has really inspired the students in his (class)room to just be happy and to just enjoy the day-to-day things we all take for granted,” she said.
On Friday, he’ll attend Fairfield’s Freshman School and then high school grades ending his school day sitting for a short time in class with seniors.
His accelerated journey through the grades will end in a Friday evening graduation ceremony, where he’ll don his own cap and gown. Surrounded by family, friends, Central Elementary teachers and Fairfield district officials, Walter will be celebrated as a graduate of Fairfield Schools.
“The outpouring of support for Walter has been overwhelming,” said Fairfield Schools spokeswoman Gina Gentry-Fletcher.
“Mrs. Gallo and her staff have worked extremely hard to make this milestone happen and we are fortunate to have such a giving community of students, staff and administrators who do whatever it takes to give our children such positive experiences,” said Gentry-Fletcher.
Gallo, who had the boy as a kindergarten student last year, hovered lovingly over Walter during each of his short visits to the different grades in her school. Lessons were altered and simplified so he could participate in small groups.
After about 20 minutes in each class, she and teachers presented Walter with a grade graduation certificate.
Second-grade teacher, Kim Eichhold, made sure Walter felt special while in her class and later marveled at the young student.
“He is the most wonderful boy. He is super friendly and he brings a smile to everyone’s face,” said Eichhold, who home-tutored Walter last school year on the days when he wasn’t healthy enough to make it to school.
The school’s principal deflects any credit shown her for honoring the young boy’s wishes.
Gallo said for her, teachers and others “this is just kind of our way of paying forward a little bit. So how could you not do this for the family?”
In recent weeks the Fairfield boy has become increasingly famous for his courage and grit.
Walter was recently celebrated in mid-game by Cincinnati Reds star Joey Votto, who high-fived the Fairfield boy and handed him a signed baseball bat after homering.
On Friday he will share the practice field as a special guest of the Cincinnati Bengals.