In an arena in Sunrise, Florida, the seniors at Marjory Stoneman Douglas finally graduated. Months after a shooting at the school claimed 17 lives, the community felt the absence of students who would've been graduating that day — and honored them. On a day filled with such solidarity and support, one Marjory Stoneman Douglas graduation video of victims' parents accepting their diplomas shows the loudest round of applause went to them.
The school awarded posthumous diplomas to the four seniors killed. Joaquin Oliver, Meadow Pollack, Nicholas Dworet, and Carmen Schentrup were scheduled to graduate, but their parents went in their stead.
As she walked to the stage to accept Joaquin Oliver's diploma, his mom Patricia removed a coat. Underneath, she was wearing a bright neon yellow long-sleeved shirt that said "THIS SHOULD BE MY SON." Patricia received a standing ovation as she made her way across the stage to accept her son's diploma. She stopped to hug each of the students and teachers who were on-stage.
While wearing a silver and maroon sash with MSD Strong, Patricia received a diploma holder and a shadow box which contained a maroon mortar board and another diploma holder. As she held it up for the arena, the applause erupted again.
The "MSD Strong" sashes were donated by a Herff Jones, an Indiana-based company that makes graduation memorabilia such as honor cords, and graduation gowns.
Not all families chose to attend the ceremony. Meadow Pollack's parents attended the senior prom in May, but told the Florida Sun-Sentinel on Friday that they will not attend graduation. “It’s too tough for me,” father Andrew Pollack told the newspaper. “I did enough with the prom. It almost killed me.” Her brother, Hunter Pollack, went to retrieve the diploma for Meadow.
April and Phil Schentrup, parents of Carmen Schentrup, told The Sun-Sentinel that they will not be celebrating the school district by going to graduation.
“I hold [the Broward school district] responsible for my daughter’s death,” April Schentrup told the newspaper earlier in the week. “Why would we go and celebrate with them?”
On Sunday, April Schentrup tweeted a photo of her daughter with a message for the graduates:
My <3 is with the MSD C/O 2018 today. For me, it is too painful to celebrate w/o Carmen. But I am proud of Carmen’s friends & classmates on their accomplishments. They’ve overcome so much. I know they will cont to make positive changes. Carmen’s senior photo w/ cap & gown
Alongside the senior portrait of Carmen Schentrup were her honor cords.
Though not all parents chose to attend Sunday's ceremony, the students' absence was well documented. In her speech, senior class president Julia Cordover said they will always be remembered.
“We will never forget our fallen Eagles,” Cordover told the graduates and their families in her speech. “They will always be in our thoughts and in our hearts. Our struggle is part of our story. It doesn’t define us. Let it motivate us.”
The relatives of the teachers and staff killed during the February shooting were also invited. Lina Beigel Schulman, geography teacher Scott Beigel's mother, flew from her home in New York to attend the ceremony. "I know nothing about the program or what they have planned, but I just want to be there. I want to support the school,” Beigel Schulman told The Sun-Sentinel.
Beigel Schulman told the newspaper that her son would be attending if he could, so she wants to represent him. "I know Scott would be proud of his students who are graduating," she added.
Representatives for Beigel, Coach Aaron Feis, and Athletic Director Chris Hixon accepted a statue of an honorary eagle at the ceremony, according to CNN.