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How to Help

How to Help

The Foundation for Orange County Public Schools has launched the Help John Cates Fund to assist the Orange County Virtual School student with living expenses after his mom passed away. Learn more about Cates and his mom in this Slice digital story.

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OCVS Grants Mom's Dying Wish

By Clare Wickramasuriya

OCVS Senior John Cate Mom Diana Aray and OCVS School Counselor Kecia Croom

With just months to live, Orange County Virtual School helped mom Diana Aray experience one of the most wonderful moments of her life before passing away.

Aray was battling brain cancer and enrolled her son John Cates, 18, in the virtual-school program so he could participate in classes at home while working and being her caregiver.

OCVS has been providing students like Cates with customized, flexible and innovative online-learning opportunities for more than 20 years. The school combines virtual instruction and face-to-face support on its campus, which includes 1,435 total full-time students and 25,000 part-time students.

Like many parents, Aray dreamed of the day she would get to see her son walk across the stage to receive his high school diploma.

Aray knew she might not get to see Cates graduate in May and contacted OCVS Principal Brandi Gurley to ask if her son’s diploma could be mailed to their home. Gurley asked a few questions and Aray revealed her illness - information that had not been mentioned to any of Cates’ teachers. 

Gurley, Assistant Principal Donna Dalton and School Counselor Kecia Croom decided they should do more than just send a diploma. They planned a special graduation ceremony that included Cates wearing a cap and gown and receiving his high school diploma, balloons, a photographer and cake.

“We wanted to make the graduation as memorable as we possibly could,” said Gurley. “Ms. Aray held and squeezed my hand really hard and said she can die happy.”

“I’m very grateful because I wasn’t sure if my mom would be able to see me graduate,” said Cates. “I was stressed and worried, but she got to see me graduate and we could celebrate.”

Cates’ mom passed away about 30 minutes after he finished his last OCVS class on March 30. OCPS and OCVS are supporting him during this difficult time. Please see the box at left for how you can help.