Students pull off NHL-sized surprise

It’s tough enough for one person to keep a secret, never mind the entire graduating class of Princess Margaret — but they managed to pull it off.

Surrounded by family and friends Daniel Cunningham smiles during his surprise birthday party at Princess Margaret Secondary School recently. In addition to some special gifts he also received tickets to an upcoming Vancouver Canucks hockey game.

It’s tough enough for one person to keep a secret, never mind the entire graduating class of Princess Margaret — but they managed to pull it off.

It was all in the name to hold a surprise 18th birthday party for classmate Daniel Cunningham, who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The longtime Canucks fan was given tickets to a March 31 game (his actual birthday) and received a special birthday message from his favourite player.

“I have known Daniel since middle school and I wanted to do something really special for him for his birthday,” said Megan Ehlers, a Grade 12 student who spearheaded the idea. “I got hold of Mason Raymond and he made a video for his birthday and we got Daniel and his parents Canucks tickets.”

Under the guise of a grad meeting, all 170 Grade 12 students packed into the gym. After some grad business, everyone’s attention was brought to a screen set up for a slideshow of pictures of Cunningham’s past birthday’s and the special message from Raymond. “I was really surprised,” said Cunningham, who was too shocked to say much. “I want to thank everyone. ”Raymond wished the student a happy birthday and congratulations on graduating high school.

Cunningham also received a Vancouver Canucks gift basket with a signed letter from Raymond, a player photo and other Canucks items. Many in the grad class have known Cunningham since Kindergarten and have seen Cunningham lose the use of muscles in his body over the years.

They have watched his disease progress from him being able to walk and run, to now being in a power wheelchair full time with only the use of his hands. The graduating class had been working for months to keep the secret. Ehlers said both students and teachers pitched in to help cover the cost of tickets by volunteering whatever money they could.

“Daniel is an inspiration to everyone that I know. He is someone that is really special and someone that everyone wants to remember,” said a teary-eyed Ehlers of why the students planned the surprise. Princess Margaret Vice Principal Terry Grady was not surprised that the Grade 12’s put it all together because they are such a “compassionate and caring,” group.

The school is also the first to hold a muscular dystrophy walk as a fundraiser and the students said it was because of Cunningham that they became more aware of the need to help fund research, provide support and resources. Penticton Firefighters were also at the birthday celebration last Thursday.

They have been bringing Cunningham a birthday cake to his school since he was three years old. The firefighters raise money for muscular dystrophy through a variety of annual fundraisers including Christmas tree pickups and boot drive.

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