A day for celebration in Riverhead turned into a day to remember. As Riverhead High School’s 346 seniors accepted their diplomas during the June commencement ceremony, they also reflected on two classmates who couldn’t be there: John Anderson and Danielle Lawrence.
John’s parents, Dennis and Carmel, sat in the front row near the stage along with their daughter Maria, who accepted a posthumous diploma on behalf of her younger brother. Seated nearby in the bleachers were Tony Lawrence and his daughter Brandy, who accepted a diploma in Danielle’s honor.
On the eve of graduation, Mr. Lawrence said accepting the diploma on his daughter’s behalf would be “bittersweet.”
“My heart is filled with nothing but loving memories of her,” he said.
Throughout the ceremony, speakers took time to remember these students and the particular challenges and adversity the Class of 2017 faced amid two tragedies.
“Leaders were born from the loss of our classmates,” principal Charles Regan said during the ceremony.
Graduates Breanna Coach and Shannon Zeltmann described gifts the class had donated in memory of Danielle and John. For Danielle, they donated violins to Pulaski Street Elementary School’s music department. For John, the class donated money to establish a scholarship in his name.
In his commencement speech, valedictorian Kyle Gevinski encouraged his classmates to remember those who helped them achieve success and spoke of how classmates leaned on each other for support during times of turmoil.
“During these moments, I learned the most important job as a friend is to lift others up when they fall down,” Kyle said.
Photo credit: Tony and Brandy Lawrence accepted a diploma on behalf of their late daughter and sister. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)