STANLEY, La. (KSLA) - For 19 high school seniors in the small DeSoto Parish town of Stanley, graduation day just won’t be complete without number 20.
“It’s natural to put him in there with the rest of them,” smiles Stanley teacher, and parent of a high school senior, Tori Lafleur.
Outside Stanley High School, alongside Highway 84, 20 banners were erected to honor the graduating seniors.
But one banner is noticeably different than the others. While 19 of them have the faces of teenagers, one has the smiling face of a 6-year-old.
“I think about it every day,” says senior Brennan Lafleur, who helped his mother and others put up the banners.
Brennan is referring to how often he thinks about his one-time best friend Bryce Norwood, who died in 2006 from childhood cancer.
“Living across the street from him, he was my best friend at the time,” remembers Brennan.
He and Bryce attended pre-K together in 2006.
Bryce’s mother, Alicia, says her son had big dreams for a little boy.
“He asked me one time, ‘Mom, can you be a professional baseball player, a doctor, and a teacher,' and I was like, yeah."
But Alicia says just three days into the school year, his fast moving dreams were suddenly paused.
Bryce was soon diagnosed with cancer in his kidney.
“You never know what tomorrow holds, so never take one day for granted,” adds Alicia.
Instead of fun days in the classroom, Bryce spent long stretches at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis.
But the entire time he was away fighting for his life, his class, with help from teacher Karen Welborn, set get well cards, counting the days until Bryce’s return.
“They’re 4, so they don’t understand the brevity. They just loved Bryce,” says Karen.
In the spring of 2007, Bryce finally was medically able to return to school.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” remembers a smiling Brennan.
“He came through the door and he didn’t have hair. I was like, ‘Bryce, where’s your hair buddy?’”
Brennan and his friend Justin Glaze even shaved their heads in honor of their friend for life.
Bryce’s struggle to beat cancer sadly ended on February 14, 2008.
“He touched so many lives in so many ways,” explains Karen.
So much so his classmates, teachers, and other parents continued to remember and honor Bryce through the years.
Trees were planted on the playground which is still thriving today.
His classmates would wear red shirts on or around Valentine’s Day each year in remembrance of Bryce.
“To those kids,” says Alicia," he’s still their classmate. Even though he’s not here, he’s a part of everything they do."
And a year ago during the class of 2020′s junior ring ceremony, the kids even included Bryce’s mother in their moment inside the school gym.
“It means everything to a mom that your kid is still thought of and still loved,” Alicia proudly states.
For these seniors and their parents, they were determined to carry Bryce with them all the way to graduation day.
“I know when those kids walk across that stage, a part of Bryce will walk across that stage,” says Alicia.