Chardon Victims Remembered At Graduation

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By Allison Brown

CHARDON, Ohio -- Many Chardon High School students are looking to the future.

Graduating seniors closed one chapter of their lives on Saturday, as they make plans for their journey ahead.

At the same time, there was time for reflection during the graduation ceremony, which was held at the Mentor Fine Arts Center. Many have accepted that last year's tragedy at the high school is part of their history there.

The commencement service was a time to remember the three victims who lost their lives back in February of 2012, but there was a lot of happiness as well. There was a celebration of learning, life and survival.

Nikolas Walczak, who was a victim of the tragedy, was able to cross the graduation stage and accept his diploma. It was a true milestone for his family and friends.

"Nik is a really strong person having to go through that, but he has had a lot of support, and I think everyone else cheering him on like that really helped," said classmate Melanie O'Neill.

Walczack is a survivor, and his mother tells Fox 8 she is just happy she can see him enjoy this milestone.

"If you were to ask me a year and a few months ago, I would have never have thought of this day, but we made it and we got through and every day is a new adventure," said Holly Cormiea.

An adventure is what's to come for the class of 2013. The Chardon Hilltoppers have bright futures ahead, but no one forgets the past.

"Just wish they could be here," said Jacob Bridges, a graduating senior.

The tragic loss of Daniel Parmertor, 16; Russell King, Jr. 17; and Demetrius Hewlin, 16 will always be there.

As a reminder of the young men, there was a table with three roses on the graduation stage. The roses symbolized the lives of the three, who would have graduated on Saturday as well.

"Today is bittersweet," said Ohio Governor John Kasich, who was the keynote speaker at commencement. "There is something about going through a struggle that makes us tougher, more compassionate, and all the wiser."

Kasich told the Chardon graduating class they have grown in their character because of the adversity they have had to face.

He went on to say that he hopes they encounter the world with selflessness.

Many graduates tell Fox 8 that they will never forget where they came from, and the life lessons they have learned.

"I'll always be proud to be a Hilltopper. Once a Hilltopper, always a Hilltopper," said Brittany Hokes, a graduating senior.

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