Victims Remembered at Virginia Tech Graduation Commencement ceremonies were bittersweet this weekend on the campus of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
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Victims Remembered at Virginia Tech Graduation

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Victims Remembered at Virginia Tech Graduation

Victims Remembered at Virginia Tech Graduation

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Virginia Tech held its graduation last night. 4,700 diplomas were handed out, 27 posthumously - for students killed in last month's shooting. The five faculty members who died were also honored.

From Blacksburg, NPR's Adam Hochberg reports.

ADAM HOCHBERG: In staging this year's graduation, Virginia Tech administrators tried to attain a delicate balance. On the one hand, allowing the students who earned degrees to celebrate their achievement; on the other, honoring the memory of the students and faculty who were missing. It was a ceremony where almost every speaker makes the message of congratulations with one of sympathy and where many graduates admitted to struggling with mixed emotions.

Mr. JOE KAUFMANN(ph) (Virginia Tech Graduate): You know, you feel sorry for the friends that you lost. But, you know, they wouldn't want you to just dwell on it. They would want you to, you know, keep going.

HOCHBERG: Joe Kaufmann of Forest Hill, Maryland, graduated last night with a mechanical engineering degree. But at the ceremony and throughout the day yesterday, he was thinking of his friend and fellow student, Maxine Turner, who was among those killed.

Mr. KAUFMANN: It's still hard. I mean, I went and visited the memorial site. And that still brought up some memories and some tears. And I don't know if I'll ever fully get over it, but I'm so ready to live my life but never forget.

(Soundbite of song, "Pomp and Circumstance")

HOCHBERG: Graduates marching into the commencement were joined by families and friends of the victims who were escorted to special seats near the stage. Some embraced each other or wiped away tears during the ceremony, which included a video tribute to their loved ones.

In his remarks, Virginia Tech President Charles Steger said hearts still ache on campus from what he called a senseless burst of violence. He saluted the faculty members who were lost as dedicated and nurturing, and the students who died as innocent and beautiful young minds.

Dr. CHARLES STEGER (President, Virginia Tech): We remember them as caring, kind, compassionate and loving. They were serious about their goals but fun-loving in their pursuit of their aspirations. Their impact on this earth is not a function of the number of years that they lived but how they lived.

HOCHBERG: Steger also implored graduates, though, to look to the future - not to forget but to move on and to let their own achievements as Virginia Tech alumni, form a lasting memorial to their fallen classmates.

It was a sentiment echoed by the commencement speaker, retired Army General John Abizaid, who encouraged graduates to maintain a sense of purpose and hope.

Gen. JOHN ABIZAID (Retired, U.S. Army): While we are saddened by the loss of those who cannot be here today, I believe that they would want this ceremony to commemorate both the tragedy of yesterday and the promise of tomorrow.

HOCHBERG: The students who died are being awarded diplomas this weekend - the first time Virginia Tech has ever issued posthumous degrees.

Unidentified Woman: As I call each name, I would invite the family members to receive the diploma from President Steger.

HOCHBERG: At a smaller ceremony yesterday for graduate students, nine of the victims received degrees. Some were given to parents, others to friends or mentors. Professor Mark Widdowson accepted the diploma of Dan O'Neil, who died while working toward a master's in environmental engineering.

Professor MARK WIDDOWSON (Virginia Tech): Emotions just come like a faucet being turned on. And this moment, this loss is just still right there with us and I'm just really honored to be able to accept the degree on behalf of the family.

HOCHBERG: Yesterday's ceremony contained no reference to the student responsible for the tragedy, senior English major Seung-Hui Cho, who killed himself after taking the lives of 32 others. Cho was not included in the video presentation nor listed in the commencement program. A university spokesman said that while the school is sympathetic to what Cho's family is going through, yesterday was a day to honor the innocent victims.

Adam Hochberg, NPR News, Blacksburg, Virginia.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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