Woodland family spends graduation together, though 3,000 miles apart

Posted June 14, 2012, at 5:37 a.m.
Recent  Woodland Consolidated School eighth-grade graduate Adrianna Bither poses with her father, Steve Bither, following the graduation ceremony on June 6. Though Steve is currently at a cancer clinic in Mesa, Arizona, he was able to attend the Woodland graduation ceremony through real-time video chat on a tablet computer.
Natalie Bazinet | Aroostook Republican
Recent Woodland Consolidated School eighth-grade graduate Adrianna Bither poses with her father, Steve Bither, following the graduation ceremony on June 6. Though Steve is currently at a cancer clinic in Mesa, Arizona, he was able to attend the Woodland graduation ceremony through real-time video chat on a tablet computer.

WOODLAND, Maine — No parent wants to miss their child’s graduation and, despite being 3,000 miles away, a Woodland father recently found a way to be at his daughter’s eighth-grade commencement ceremony in this Aroostook County town through the help of a little technology and a lot of creativity.

Graduate Adrianna Bither, 13, is an all-around good student — she earned her spot on the honor roll for three semesters this year, placed fourth in the school’s competitive science fair, played three sports and managed another. When it was time for Adrianna to don her white cap and gown during graduation on June 6, her father, Steve Bither, wasn’t about it miss it.

Though Steve is currently at a cancer clinic in Arizona, the Bithers arranged to connect Steve with Adrianna’s graduation using an iPad tablet and Skype, a video chat program that allows users to see and hear each other using real-time video and audio. With Steve’s wife — and Adrianna’s mom — Gala at the iPad’s helm, Steve not only had the opportunity to reconnect with the community he’s excited to come home to, he had the opportunity to congratulate Adrianna on the milestone accomplishment.

“Having my dad there [on video chat] meant a lot to me,” Adrianna said. “My dad’s goal was to be home by my graduation, but under the circumstances, he was not able to. I think we were both happy that we could see each other, even if it wasn’t in person.”

Though the family frequently uses Skype to keep in touch, they hadn’t considered video chat as a graduation option until a friend suggested it. Although the friend offered their iPad to the Bithers for graduation, Woodland and New Sweden music teacher Jennifer Holmes’ iPad was used for highly mobile video chat, as the tablet was already linked to the school’s wireless system.

Despite a computer glitch that unfortunately caused Steve to miss Adrianna’s diploma presentation, he said that attending the graduation through the Web was the next best thing to being there.

“I could not have been any prouder of Adrianna, and just seeing the smile on her face knowing that I was able to be there, even though it was through the Internet, was worth it,” Steve said. “I was so glad I was able to see it.”

At first, it seemed that few who attended graduation knew that Steve was on the other end of the tablet Gala was walking around with. Once people realized that Steve was “there,” friends, neighbors and graduates alike seemed eager to say hello.

“It was really nice because I got to see and congratulate all of the class,” Steve said.

As much as Steve enjoyed being at graduation, the entire gymnasium seemed happy to have him there.

“It was great to have Steve there and have so many family and friends say hi,” Gala explained. “It reinforced for me that Steve is still in so many peoples’ thoughts and prayers.

“We have been blessed with the support of so many family, friends and even strangers,” she added. “He is missed.”

Though the family wishes they could have all been together on Adrianna’s big day, the Bithers didn’t let a continent’s worth of mileage get in their way of creating another family memory together.

“We have learned that treating his cancer involves making lots of sacrifices; we just have to get creative sometimes to make sure he doesn’t miss much,” Gala said, adding how Steve has always been a very involved father and couldn’t be more proud of his daughters, Adrianna and older daughter Megan, 16.

The Bithers have always been a very close family, which Gala believes helps them get through the ups and downs.

From Arizona, Steve uses Skype, in addition to normal phone calls, three or four times a week to stay in touch with family and friends.

“It is really nice to talk to my family and to see them at the same time,” Steve explained, a sentiment that Gala strongly agrees with.

“Actually seeing Steve has helped the family,” Gala said. “It is one thing to talk on the phone, but when you can see the person you are talking to, it is much more gratifying.

“There’s a certain peace of mind when you can see how he is doing,” she added, mentioning how video chat allows their daughters to show Steve their awards, pictures and even a new graduation outfit.

With all the positives that video chat has brought to the Bither family, staying so close with dad through Skype means that the Bither girls still hear those distance-transcending dad phrases such as “clean your room” and “do your homework.”

“He tells us to help Mom around the house,” Adrianna said jovially.

Steve said that the technology allows the family to stay close and, barring any Internet problems, is a great way to communicate.

While most people use tablets to check email and play Angry Birds, using the iPad to connect Steve with his family on graduation only strengthened Adrianna’s favorite thing about her father: she says he’s always there for her no matter what.

“He’s taught me to be strong and never give up,” Adrianna said.

This fall, she will join Megan at Caribou High School.

The future freshman is very excited about her new school, and is hoping to play basketball, softball and maybe even soccer for the Vikings.

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