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Students at Independence High School Walk Out in Support of Nathan Rhodes


Students at Independence High School walked out in protest Friday morning to raise their voices against how one of their peers has been treated – junior Nathan Rhodes is believed to be suffering from terminal cancer, and they think he should receive proper medical treatment for his illness.

Nate was recently honored to receive recognition as one of only 161 Presidential Scholars for 2023 nationwide.

Nate’s Story

Nate was known as one of the greatest football players ever, always standing up for his teammates and never backsliding from hard work. A fearless opponent who regularly faced opponents weighing over one hundred pounds, Nate never shied away from hard work or struggle. Additionally, he was an exceptional listener and caring friend who could always find ways to bring joy, even on days he struggled personally.

After being diagnosed with cancer, he spent the next three years fighting it and receiving chemotherapy treatment. During this time, many aspects of his life that made up who he was began to change as his family moved, football stopped being part of his routine, weight was shed off quickly, and energy wained due to nausea as he constantly alternated between being ravenous hungry and vomiting up blood.

He began using drugs and alcohol more to manage his pain, leading him down the path toward addiction that was out of his control. While others may interpret his drug use as evidence of weak will or moral character flaw, substance use disorder is an illness that impacts not only those living with addiction but their family and friends as well.

Robin recalls hearing Nate play guitar; she described how it seemed as though he disappeared into his art while everything else — beeping machines, hospital beds, and cancer — faded away. Nate took great pride in connecting people through art; indeed, it was one of his pillars of strength during treatment.

Nate had worked tirelessly to maintain his family’s happiness despite his addiction, being an incredible father, son, brother, and friend. Upon reaching his final moments, he knew it was finally time for rest and was surrounded by those closest to him in his time of need.

Nate returns to AFC Richmond at the conclusion of the season as a kit man, seemingly content just being there and sorting through dirty jerseys and jockstraps. It’s an exquisite moment that reminds us all that in life; we are just people trying to live life as best we can.


Advocating for oneself can open up new opportunities and provide more control over one’s quality of life. Learning to voice requests and concerns effectively can give people with disabilities greater independence in both work environments and communities.

The first time around, it can be challenging to advocate for yourself; you may fear appearing as though you are complaining about your responsibilities or incapacity to manage them. Speaking up on behalf of yourself early enough it will prevent miscommunication or missing opportunities for professional growth.

Advocating for yourself can help others understand that everyone deserves respect and dignity, not by criticizing or attacking individuals but by drawing to attention issues that affect our lives and bring cases before those with power.

Self-advocacy is a practice of discovering what’s most important to you and effectively communicating that to others. While developing this skill can take time, self-advocacy gives individuals greater control of their lives.

Nate’s school principal recently recommended that he return to class, suggesting that his family recognize the value of advocating for him and encouraging them to learn advocacy skills that allow for safe and inclusive environments where individuals may express needs, concerns, and challenges freely.

Advocacy should be understood as a right for all, no matter their age or circumstance. Some prominent examples are Greta Thunberg, Simone Biles, and David Hogg, who have successfully raised awareness for their respective causes through advocacy efforts.

Advocating for yourself allows you to get what you need – such as breaks during the day or job accommodation. By communicating your needs to others, they can understand and work together towards finding solutions.

Community Support

Independence High School students walked out of classes Friday morning to support Nathan Rhodes, a junior who recently was suspended for using a vape pen containing cannabis as pain management. Students feel this was unfair disciplinary action taken against a terminally ill student.

Students lined one side of the road and chanted outside their school as some drivers passed by revving their engines or honking their horns in solidarity; others posted messages to social media as well. WVVA News spoke to parents who signed out their children so they could participate in the walkout.

Emily Price, Rhodes’ mother, documented his walkout while standing on the sidewalk. She expressed gratitude to the community and wanted him to know they loved and supported him, hoping the community would stand with them as long as needed.

One teacher from Liberty High School attended the demonstration to show their support and was moved by the students’ dedication and courage in advocating for themselves. She believes it’s vital that she educate her students on how they can advocate for themselves effectively.

The school teaches its students about their rights and how to exercise them effectively, according to Mrs. Sheen, who has seen them gain confidence as they become aware of these rights and more aware of themselves as individuals. Furthermore, they’ve become adept at communicating what needs they have when necessary.

Additionally, she says they have taught their kids to advocate for themselves as well as be kind and respectful; being an upstanding citizen is just as essential to academic achievement.

Nationally, this high school ranks 976-1,198th in New York for overall test scores (math proficiency is in the bottom 50% and reading proficiency in the top 5%). Graduation rates rank at 88% while college readiness ranks 94%; diversity rates are relatively low, with only 41% poverty among its student body. Teachers are committed to helping all their students realize their full potential, and students are encouraged to join extracurricular activities with many opportunities for leadership development and community service available to them.

School Support

Students from across Raleigh County flocked to Independence High on Friday to take part in its walkout protest, according to parents interviewed by The Register-Herald. Some drivers even took the initiative of revving up their engines and doing burnouts while honking horns in support of Independence High’s actions.

Caelyb Nichols, an 11th grader at the school, reported that students are upset over how principal Shawn Hawkins handled Nate Rhodes. Caelyb indicated they are concerned that Hawkins may keep him off campus permanently – the school did not respond to their request for comment.

Family and friends say Nate is so grateful for all of the support available to him despite facing challenges in life. He’s learning that it’s his right to ask for what he wants, assert himself, and be treated equally by his community – something his family is immensely proud of him for fighting so valiantly against. On Monday, it was announced that Nate has earned one of only 161 national Presidential Scholar awards this year, two from Tennessee among them!