Graduation Gift

Grant Beste dons his cap and gown during a private Wynot (Neb.) High School graduation ceremony for his father, Russ Beste (left), who was suffering from brain cancer and passed away shortly afterwards. Presiding at the graduation were (continuing right) Wynot Superintendent Jeff Messersmith and Principal Grant Torpin.

As he stood by his dying father’s bedside, Grant Beste graduated with little pomp but very special circumstances.

In a quickly-arranged July 15 ceremony, Wynot, Nebraska, school officials held a special graduation for Grant at the home of his father, Russ Beste, who suffered from brain cancer and had entered hospice.

“One of my dad’s final big wishes was to see me get my high school diploma,” Grant said.

Russ Beste died in the early morning hours of July 17, less than two days after seeing his son celebrate the milestone.

On the day after the private graduation, Grant celebrated another honor — he was named Wynot High School’s “Career Academy Student of the Year” for the work program.

Grant saw the honors as a tribute to his father, who had instilled a strong work ethic in his son.

“If I wanted something in life, my dad said I had to work my butt off,” Grant said. “You won’t get anywhere in life if you want something given to you and expect a handout. You can’t be lazy.”

Grant attended the Wynot schools from kindergarten through his senior year. The Class of 2020 commencement, originally scheduled for May, was postponed to July 26 because of the pandemic.

For the Beste family, the delay raised fears that Russ wouldn’t live to see his son graduate, Torpin said. The situation became dire when the father’s condition took a turn for the worse in July.

“Grant’s aunt called the school and said Russ had gone into hospice. In that situation, you never know how long someone will be there,” Principal Grant Torpin said. “Russ really wanted to see Grant graduate, and the aunt wondered if there was any way Grant could get his diploma earlier than the original date. She asked if we could make something work.”

Superintendent Jeff Messersmith approved a special ceremony honoring Grant, who was unaware of his aunt’s request but was grateful. Family attended the 2 p.m. ceremony at Russ Beste’s home in Yankton.

“I was really stoked for it to happen. It was an awesome experience,” Grant said. “We had a photographer who took really good photos, but she told us it was literally the hardest photos she had ever done.”

Grant donned his cap and gown for the occasion. Messersmith and Torpin read the full list of graduating seniors, presented Grant with his diploma and recognized him with awards and scholarships.

Grant’s greatest gift came during the commencement ceremony for one.

“My dad was lying there in bed, but he woke up and was aware of what was going on,” he said. “He was smiling and very interactive, which shocked all of us. He was awake and aware the whole time.”

At the time, Grant received a final good-bye from his father.

“He grabbed my hand and said, ‘Congratulations, ‘lil buddy. Love you forever,” Grant said. “Then he closed his eyes and went back to sleep. He never opened his eyes again, except for a few seconds. He passed away at 1:19 a.m. 7/17/20. I’ll always remember that (time and date).”

Russ Beste’s battle with brain cancer wasn’t his first bout with the disease. He survived a bout with two other cancers, unrelated to his final one, in 2005.

Grant said he was only 2 or 3 years old at the time and remembers little about those particular struggles. He does recall his father had gone to a chiropractor for recurring pain. The chiropractor was unable to find the cause and recommended Russ visit a medical doctor, who discovered the two cancers.

“If it hadn’t been for the chiropractor, my dad wouldn’t have gone to the doctor where they diagnosed the cancer in 2005,” Grant said, adding his father remained cancer-free for the next 14 years.

Russ Beste worked as a farmer and trucker his entire life. Grant holds special memories working alongside his father, recalling how he headed straight to the field upon arriving home from school.

“I worked with him on the equipment and within the truck a few times. He taught me how to work with my hands while I was growing up,” Grant said. “I was an only child, so I never had siblings to play with. It wasn’t that I had no fun, but I worked a lot and had chores. I loved doing it.”

Using the farming and mechanical background learned from his father, Grant has worked for JSH Enterprises, a Yankton agribusiness, since 2017.

Grant’s love of farming and his work ethic led him to become Wynot’s first Career Academy participant. Messersmith had previously worked with the program at Winside, Nebraska, and recommended Grant for the academy.

Grant enjoyed the experience, which included an internship, written reports and a presentation to the Wynot school board. He received academic credit for the program.

A knee injury and surgery sidelined Grant’s time in athletics. However, he remained active at school, including running the camera at football and basketball games. He credited Messersmith and Torpin with trusting him for such responsibilities.

Grant excelled in his high school schedule, and by the end of his junior year had finished all but one required class for graduation. His senior courses included an English class and two manufacturing classes offered through the Crofton, Nebraska, schools.

Besides their strong work ethic, Russ and Grant Beste shared something else — tattoos dedicated to their love of the Australian rock band AC/DC. Grant not only got a tattoo similar to his father, but he also had the work done between his junior and senior years of high school — the age when Russ received his tattoo.

Grant’s tattoo became the unexpected topic at a meeting with Wynot school board members and officials. He was one of the students chosen to provide input on the school’s dress code, when he surprised the group by asking if the large tattoo on his upper left arm would need to be covered.

“People didn’t know I had a tattoo, so I showed them and they said it was OK,” Grant said.

Life took a dramatic turn in January 2019, when Russ and Grant Beste returned from a work trip to Moline, Illinois. The next morning, Grant planned to leave the house to plow snow. He stopped to tell Russ of his plans, only to find his father in a dazed condition.

“My dad didn’t know who he was, who I was, what room he was in,” Grant said. “If I had just walked out the door and not stopped to tell my dad where I was going, I wouldn’t have seen what he looked like or what was happening. I got him to the doctor in Yankton, and then he was sent on to Sioux Falls for treatment.”

After the death of Russ Beste, Wynot school officials supported Grant in another way. At the outdoors graduation at the football field, they played AC/DC’s “For Those About To Rock” for the recessional.

“The class did it in memory of my dad,” Grant said. “I did tear up a little bit. It was a week after he passed, and it hit me that this was really cool. I could feel he was looking down on me.”

Grant plans two more tributes to his father. When he completes the driving portion, he will receive a commercial driver’s license (CDL) that his father wanted for him. In addition, Grant plans to repaint his father’s motorcycle and take it to the Sturgis bike rally, which the elder Beste had attended numerous times.

“I always tried to make my dad proud, the best I could,” Grant said. “I want to do those two things in his memory.”

Follow @RDockendorf on Twitter.

(1) comment


That was beautiful. He was a lucky man to have a son like him!

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