Graduation Filled With Painful Memories


( – In a graduation filled with painful memories, Sandy Hook shooting survivors received their high school diplomas at Newtown High School without 20 of their classmates who were killed nearly 12 years ago.

The absence of these 20 students, victims of a gunman’s attack on their first-grade class in one of America’s deadliest school shootings, cast a somber shadow over what is typically a joyful occasion for most teenagers.

Graduates expressed mixed feelings about reaching this milestone, mindful of their fallen peers who should have been alongside them, receiving their diplomas on stage.

Principal Kimberly Longobucco said, “We remember your 20 classmates who were tragically lost on Dec. 14, 2012, who will not walk across the stage tonight. We remember them for their bravery, their kindness and their spirit. Let us strive to honor them today and every day.”

Longobucco read aloud the names of all 20 students, forever remembered as first-graders, followed by a moment of silence as attendees bowed their heads.

Likewise, about 60 of the 335 graduates wore green ribbons with “Forever in Our Hearts” on their gowns, signifying their connection as former classmates of the Sandy Hook victims who survived the tragic shooting that also claimed the lives of six educators.

“It’s impossible to graduate and not miss those 20 kids from our class,” said Lilly Wasilnak, a 17-year-old survivor of Sandy Hook.

Another survivor and graduate, Matt Holden, reflected on grief in unseen moments — the milestones missed by those who should still be here, turning their tassels and experiencing every day growing up.

“They should still be here, and that’s the greatest tragedy,” Holden added.

Moreover, parents of the victims, who faced what should have been a day of celebrating their children’s graduation, instead marked the occasion by advocating for resources to prevent future tragedies.

“This is a hard month because there should be twenty more kids graduating,” said Nicole Hockley, whose son Dylan was killed. “Dylan should be graduating. And [Principal] Dawn [Hochsprung] and the others should all be here watching them graduate.”

For many young survivors who witnessed or heard the horrors at just six years old, the shooting has shaped their entire lives and influenced their career paths.

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