With two parents working in the medical field, 2017 Firelands High School graduate Emily Wagner always expected to carry on that tradition.
Losing one of those parents at a young age, however, provided a lesson on the sometimes cruel unpredictability of life.
Her mother, Bridget Welch-Wagner, died in a plane crash on Oct. 19, 2004, on final approach toward Kirksville Regional Airport in Missouri. She had worked as assistant dean at Ohio University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine at the time of the crash.
In a speech Friday during commencement at FHS, Emily, a summa cum laude graduate, told classmates how losing her mother at a young age shaped her growing up.
“I really had a great example with my mother,” she told us afterward. “I really learned from her to work hard and do what you want to do. After she passed away, I kind of developed a love of helping people like she did. From there, I decided I wanted to eventually become a neurosurgeon and help as many people as I can.”
She will begin pre-medical studies this fall at the University of Pittsburgh.
“I want to work with people in Third World countries,” she said. “I just want to be where my help is needed the most.”
When asked about family members who stepped into needed roles in the midst of such a huge loss, she quickly acknowledged her father, Timothy Wagner; godmother, Laura Cavaliere; and stepmother Joanne Wagner.
“Around that time, my dad was in the Army and had just been deployed,” she said. “So my aunt was there and really helped us through everything. She stayed at our house for a while and really filled in whenever something was needed.”
“Emily has always been a self-starter, so staying on course hasn’t been hard for her,” her father said. “She grabs something like a pit bull and doesn’t let go until the task is finished. Today is wonderful. I know her mother is watching from somewhere and very happy.”
Emily said when life throws an unexpected hurdle at you, no matter how horrible it may be, use it as motivation to stay on course.
“Use the tragedy to propel yourself,” she said. “Even in tragedy there’s beauty. You really have to push yourself and do the best you can to make your loved ones proud. It’s what they would want.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.