Exeter graduate shares message from tragedy

Wednesday, July 22, 2020
At his graduation on June 19, Exeter valedictorian Cameron Weston gave more than a few stories to his classmates in his speech. He gave the gift of a message, a lesson he has learned through his experiences this year — appreciate your time and your loved ones. Weston holds this dear to his heart, along with the memory of his late stepfather and stepsister who both died with in days of each other this April. Jordan Privett/jprivett@cassville-democrat.com

Weston: ‘I knew it was the last time I would talk to her — I was sobbing’

Students across the nation have seen a school year unlike anything they have ever experienced.

They missed months of class and had to adapt on the fly to a changing curriculum that no one planned for.

Through all of the losses that Cameron Weston has felt this year, the lesson he has learned and wants to tell others is to always remember their family. His brother Caleb Hurlbut and his late sister Hannah Hurlbut surrounded him, just months before tragedy struck, at his senior night for basketball. Contributed photo

This especially hit hard for the 2020 senior classes. A typical senior year is full of college prep, seeing friends and teachers for the last year of high school, prom and finally after the 13 years getting to the end of the line, they experience a graduation with friends, family and community.

In many ways, every student this past spring, specifically seniors, has experienced a tragedy and will always be in the hearts of their fellow Americans.

At many graduations that were held in a way that included social distancing and other COVID-19 restrictions, people heard statements that included phrases like, “There is no class better prepared to take on the world”, or “We have done the near impossible in adapting to this pandemic.”

Just days after Cameron Weston lost his sister Hannah Hurlbut, he lost his stepfather Terry Clarkson of a heart attack. Cameron Weston, his mom, Annette Weston and his stepfather Terry Clarkson in Denver, Colo., on March 16. Contributed photo

However, one local 2020 graduate had more to add to his speech.

Cameron Weston, 2020 Exeter valedictorian, walked slowly to the podium to give his speech for graduation on June 19.

The 18-year-old’s head was held high, yet somehow weighed down with what the audience would soon recognize as grief.

“This year has been the most craziest, hardest, most exciting year for us,” he said. “We have lost so many things — softball season, baseball season, final days with our favorite teachers, but there are also a couple things that I would like to talk about that I lost during the wellness break.”

On April 8, Weston woke up to a beautiful spring morning and knowing his sister Hannah wasn’t feeling well, he went downstairs to get breakfast then to his room to play video games.

“About an hour later, my dad burst into my bedroom with a look of shock and fear on his face,” he said. “He told me Hannah had stopped breathing and they had called an ambulance.”

Hannah ended up being life flighted to Springfield Mercy, while Weston and his family followed in their vehicle.

“I couldn’t go inside,” he said. “My dad, stepmom and stepbrother were able to go in, but due to the COVID-19 restrictions, I had to stay outside.”

It was determined that 12-year-old Hannah Hurlbut, had been suffering from undiagnosed Diabetes type 1 for three months.

“At the end of the day, she was alive, but they said she most likely wouldn’t make it,” Weston said. “The next day, I got the opportunity to talk to her on the phone one last time.

“I knew it was the last time I would talk to her — I was sobbing. It was just so unreal. She was so young, I guess I wasn’t really dealing with it in the moment. I was telling her my favorite stories about us.”

At about 12:30 a.m. that night, the call came — his sister had passed.

“I was at my mom and stepdad’s house at the time,” he said. “My stepdad was there for me. I remember talking to him.”

Weston’s stepfather, Terry Clarkson was in his 50s and was an instructor at Crowder in Neosho.

“It was the day before Hannah’s funeral, and I just remember being so focused on Hannah, but it happened again,” Weston said. “I didn’t hear the ambulance, but my mom came through my bedroom door with the same look of fear on her face that my dad had just days before.”

Terry had suffered a heart attack and died before the helicopter had taken off.

“Within two weeks, I had two deaths,” Weston said. “[I had] two funerals that were completely unrelated and completely unrelated to COVID-19. As it turns out, Terry was tested for COVID-19 after his death, and he was positive.

“I actually got the call and had to leave just after Hannah’s funeral to be tested and quarantined. I was negative, but my mom was positive.”

They were isolated for a month because Weston’s mother’s tests kept coming back positive.

“On top of all of this, I was experiencing my senior year of high school in a way that I had never expected,” he said. “There were times that I hated and didn’t do my homework. I was taking two dual-credits and had a high work load.”

In his valedictorian speech Weston said, “My intention for this speech is not to ask for attention, or for the next time that you see me to tell me how sorry you are. It is to remind you how bad things can get so fast. And, to tell you to appreciate the time you have and the people you have.”

Weston hoped his classmates would remember that message when they move on to college or move out of their parents’ homes.

“I didn’t realize how easy it is to lose someone, and if they do lose someone, I want them to persevere in honor of their loved one,“ he said. “I am persevering in honor of Terry and Hannah.

“I thought they would both be there to watch me graduate college. I never expected they wouldn’t be there to watch me graduate high school.”

Weston is going to Missouri State Honors College to study software development.

“I plan to work with a company to gain experience, then eventually branch off and build my own company with that experience,” he said. “My message is for everyone, not just my classmates and friends, remember them — remember your family and keep them close to you.”

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