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Glenville School rallies around Greenwich student facing brain cancer; ‘Once a Gator, always a Gator’
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By 1st. Asst. Chief Steven Caldwell
June 14, 2022

GREENWICH — Students at Glenville School poured out on the school’s front hill Tuesday morning, green “#JulianStrong” rubber bracelets smacking their wrists as they clapped and cheered — “He’s coming!”

Sirens alerted them that someone important was arriving. Police officers on motorcycles and police cars circled the school driveway, lights flashing.

The volume rose as a cherry red firetruck pulled in and parked in front of the crowd, with the student of honor sitting atop the vintage truck’s open-air seats: third-grader Julian McRandal.

Julian, who has medulloblastoma, a type of cancerous brain tumor that affects muscle coordination and movement, hasn’t been able to attend classes most of the school year because of his symptoms.

His family learned he had cancer soon after he started second grade at Glenville. He was a new Glenville Gator and had yet to build strong friendships, his mother Daisy McRandal told Greenwich Time.

“He never really integrated and made a lot of friends, but it didn’t matter for this school. They really have embraced him. It’s amazing; nobody goes missing,” she said.

When Julian shared that he had cancer, a community formed around him as people offered support. Tuesday was the culmination of the ideas various groups brought to show Julian they care, Glenville’s principal Klara Monaco said.

“Once you’re a Gator, you’re always a Gator. It doesn’t really matter how long you’ve been here,” Monaco told Greenwich Time. “He is part of our school building and our community, and everyone plays a really important part. And so we wanted to make sure that he was fully supported and included and had as much joy as possible.”

The school, the PTA, Glenville Volunteer Fire Company, Greenwich Police Department and Greenwich Emergency Medical Service all contributed to making the event happen.

“Julian and help his family, really, all they asked for is prayers and wishes and thoughts. But we wanted to find a way to do something special for him,” Monaco said.

Dominick Quinn, a volunteer firefighter, knew Julian’s story because his son attends Glenville School. He had the idea to escort Julian to school in the commemorative firetruck.

“Just seeing the smile on his face — that’s everything. That’s what we’re here for,” Quinn said. “Giving back to the community and making children happy: that’s all we care about.”

“This is our community; We all live in Glenville. This is our community, and we want to support it and do everything we possibly can,” he said.

“I asked my grandma, ‘Why is there a fire truck outside my door?’” he said during a school assembly, the last “town hall” of the year.

Team Julian
After Julian’s fancy arrival, the students sat on the floor of the gymnasium for a presentation dedicated to him. The PTA has a connection to astronaut Nicole Mann, and a group of astronauts put together a video for Julian.

The students giggled as they watched clips of astronauts washing their hair in zero gravity or catching candy as it floated into their mouths.

“We are holding you close in our prayers for strength and healing,” Mann said at the end of the video.
Julian was surprised Tuesday morning by the events.

Monaco gave Julian a rocket-shaped plush and an astronaut projector on behalf of the school.

“He’s a science fanatic,” Daisy McRandal said. “He likes anything to do with science but space, in particular.”

“Some people go gaga for celebrities, but my son, you give him a NASA scientist, that’s his celebrity,” she said.

Julian dreams about becoming an astronaut and a father someday, his parents said.

Julian’s classmates and teacher Deborah Haight wore “Team Julian” T-shirts with a rocket ship on the front. At the school’s front doors, a banner welcomed students with a rocket and “Julian Strong” message.

“We missed him so much,” Haight said. “So just to see his smile again made my whole day. Everybody has been waiting to see him. He is an angel and really an asset to our classroom.”

While he was getting treatment, the school population was folding hundreds of origami stars. The kids read and were inspired by “One Thousand Paper Cranes,” a book that describes a girl’s wish for peace and health as she folds origami cranes, Monaco said.

The stars are gathered in mason jars with a string of lights. Each classroom has a jar, and Julian brought one home.

“They are to remind us everyday the bright light that you are,” Monaco told Julian during the assembly.

Vigil support
She also presented a slideshow of photos captured of a candlelight vigil held the night of Julian’s surgery. Neighbors were told to light a candle and send well wishes.

His pain levels were excruciating recently leading up to his surgery, keeping him awake and in pain, Daisy McRandal said. She received images that night of the vigil and wanted to show Julian, but he finally fell asleep that night and was able to rest, she said.

“The fact that people have shown their love and their support, I believe it makes a difference. I believe that in some ways it does,” she said.

His mother was surprised to see Julian in such high energy Tuesday. She didn’t know to what to attribute his enthusiastic disposition, whether it be prayers or steroids.

“It’s nice to know that people are cheering for you because the journey is very lonely. For him and for us, to know that you have such a strong community around you that are like rallying and supporting you, it lifts the burden,” McRandal said.

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