Along with the flowing robes and tasseled mortarboards at graduations taking place this time of year, a number of deserving students are receiving scholarships as they enroll in college.

In Pleasanton, community groups, service clubs and foundations gather each year to hand out checks to graduating high school seniors at Amador Valley, Village and Foothlil high schools.

One such group that has donated tens of thousands of dollars in scholarships over the years is named after a former Amador baseball player, Ryan Comer.

Comer was diagnosed in the late 1980s with a rare form of pediatric cancer. Comer's mother, Billie, learned all she could about the cancer -- not an easy task before the Internet and since local libraries did not offer such materials.

In her research, Billie eventually learned about a promising-but-experimental bone marrow treatment. Because the treatment was not covered by insurance, several city leaders -- including former Councilmember Sharrell Michelotti and former school board member Pat Kernan -- rallied the community, raising $180,000 to cover expected costs.

Sadly, Ryan passed away at age 17 before the bone marrow transplant could take place. The funds helped to pay the balance of Ryan's medical bills. The remainder of $150,000 was donated to the ValleyCare Health Library because Billie's mother believes that if immediate access to current medical information had been available, Ryan may still be alive today.


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Billie's vision is to ensure that all families have access to resources about all forms of cancer. And so the Ryan Comer Cancer Resource Center was established in 1991 as part of the ValleyCare Health Library. The center offers free access to up-to-date health and medical information. Open to the public, the library is located in the ValleyCare Medical Plaza, 5725 W. Las Positas Blvd., Suite 270, Pleasanton.

Along with Billie's vision to create a cancer research center, an annual scholarship for local high school students was established. So last week, as it has done for more than two decades, the Ryan Comer Memorial Scholarship Committee provided scholarships to two well-deserving students: Cody Shields, of Foothill High School, and Claire Williams, of Amador High.

Shields hopes to become a chief oncologist one day at a hospital, a dream prompted by his exceptional academic understating of biological science and his experience caring for his girlfriend, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 leukemia. Fortunately, she is in remission.

"Now I know for sure this is exactly what I want to do," said Shields.

Williams wants to work with children, and in 2011 she received a Congressional Gold Award from U.S. Rep. Jerry McNerney for creating a summer program called "Read to a Teen" that encourages elementary school students to practice their reading skills by reading aloud to teenagers at the library.

To support this annual tradition and make a difference in the life of a student, readers interested in contributing to the scholarship fund may contact medical librarian Margaret Hsieh at mhsieh@valleycare.com or call 925-734-3315. And to all graduates this season, congratulations!

Reach Jim Ott at jimott@sbcglobal.net.