AUGUSTA — Brandon Ware graduated from Gardiner Area High School on Saturday night along with Charles Stevens, one of his biggest supporters and one of his best friends.

“He’s just been there for me forever,” said Ware, 17, of Gardiner, at an interview on Friday. “It just makes going through everything easier knowing you have someone close like that supporting you.”

The two were among the 157 graduating seniors at the commencement ceremony at the Augusta Civic Center. Another was Maria Nicole Kempton, daughter of Principal Chad Kempton, who plans to attend Thomas College.

Ware, who faces a number of medical challenges resulting from neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder, underwent surgery in September 2012 at Boston Children’s Hospital to remove a tumor on his brain stem that affected his vision, balance and facial movements.

“After my brain surgery I really looked at life an entirely different way,” he said. Ware likes things low-key, prefers studying philosophy and science and plans to take college courses on line.

This year, he completed his high school requirements with the aid of a tutor, Stephanie Kozma, while he gets chemotherapy through the Maine Children’s Cancer Center in Scarborough. “I’m very thankful for my tutor,” he said.

Stevens, 18, of Chelsea, is generally at Ware’s home three nights a week, sometimes giving him rides to various places.

Several weeks ago Stevens drove them to the Champions for Hope Dinner held by the Dempsey Center in Lewiston, where the two seniors were presenters and honorees. The center offers services for anyone affected by any type of cancer, including patients, relatives, friends and caregivers.

Ware and Stevens have attended a teen group there, and a video featuring them at the Dempsey Center can be seen on YouTube.

There, you’ll find that Ware is “into music” and Stevens is “a really big golfer.”

The two have been working with the center for about four years and raising funds for it.

Kempton praised Stevens’ attitude. “He’s a good friend to a lot of kids. He’s got a good heart and he takes care of his friends.”

Stevens said he met Ware at Laura E. Richards School in second grade — Stevens’ third school in three years. “He was my first true friend,” Stevens said. “I moved around a lot because of money issues with my family.” Stevens said Ware’s experience in dealing with his disorder motivated him to start raising money for the cancer center “to make sure he has the opportunity to live his life to the fullest.”

When he’s not with Ware, you can find Stevens on the golf course — generally Western View Golf Course in Augusta, where he works. Stevens has been playing golf for about six years and this year qualified for the individual state championship.

Stevens plans to attend the Golf Academy of America in Orlando, Florida, the alma mater of Chad Hopkins, golf coach at Gardiner Area High School.

“Obviously the big dream is to go pro,” Stevens said. “That is something down the road.” He said the school offers several different majors, including coaching.

“I’ll only be in Florida two years,” Stevens said, adding that it’s likely he’ll return to Maine for the summer.

 

Betty Adams — 621-5631
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Twitter: @betadams