SOUTHPORT, Ind. – As the music of “The Lion King” echoed through the halls of Homecroft Elementary School Wednesday, the words reminded everyone of the reason they were there – to show support to the student who was not.
“For her not to be here, it’s just different,” said classmate Sadie Heller.
In November, fifth grader Savannah McHale was diagnosed with a form of cancer called DIPG, a brain tumor that's both rare and inoperable.
“It's kinda been weird because she’s been in school, but then she just goes away, and I didn't exactly know why,” Heller said.
Fifth graders Samantha, Sadie, Molly and Abril are Savannah's classmates.
"Yes," said student Molly Gross while nodding her head, before adding another title. "Slash math partners."
But even more than math partners, they’re friends.
“She’s just like this force of happiness and silliness that just brightens everyone’s day,” Gross said of her friend.
Though it’s been weeks since that force has walked the halls of the Southport school, Savannah's presence was felt Wednesday, stronger than ever.
“The song ‘Hakuna Matata’ has such a good message about hope, and to not let your worries get the best of you,” said music teacher Michelle Bryant.
“Hakuna Matata” happens to be Savannah's favorite song. Music happens to be her favorite class, and Wednesday happened to be her birthday.
“This is like her present from the whole fifth grade,” said friend Samantha Carrico.
In front of a crowd and cameras, her classmates were joined by members of the Southport Police Department in a special rendition of the song, just for Savannah.
“All she's been through... it's like crazy and hectic," Carrico said. "’Hakuna Matata’ is one of her favorite songs, so singing it is like a gift to her, because today is her birthday.”
Echoing the problem free philosophy, these fifth graders are hoping for a present in return. For them, Savannah's smile is the biggest gift of all.
"I hope it helped her be happy today,” Heller said.