ROANOKE, Va. – Thousands of families across our area are celebrating as their high school seniors take the final walk across the stage and receive their diplomas. A reflection of students' journey through school, each ceremony is unique.
Just as one Roanoke City class of 2017 took the next step forward, students saved a special seat for a classmate who couldn't be with them.
For Patrick Henry High School graduates their longest journey to date ends in just a short walk.
As students walked down the isle of the Berglund Center surrounded by 5,000 friends and family members, they received high fives, handshakes and cheers from the crowd.
While over 400 Patrick Henry High School seniors made it to graduation, they left an open chair for a classmate who couldn't be there. Lyric Troy Chatting died before he could make that walk across the stage with them.
"I'm excited to graduate but I wish I had him here with me,” said cousin and graduating senior McKenzie Chatting.
She says Lyric’s death was unexpected, and has been especially difficult for family and friends. The kind gesture of giving her cousin, who she says was more like a brother, an honorary degree has helped her family.
"This means everything to me. All he ever wanted to do was graduate, and he would be right in front of me in the line. So it's still kind of like he is there with me,” McKenzie Chatting said.
"It was everyone's idea to actually ask the faculty to have a chair for him at graduation,” Chatting said. “So that was very sweet of them to do that."
In Lyric’s place in line, McKenzie carried his pictures and flowers that she placed in the chair he would have sitting in.
"It still feels like he is here,” McKenzie Chatting said.
His name was even read aloud while his picture was shown on the big screen, just like every other graduate to cross the stage. McKenzie accepted his honorary degree on his behalf.
"It means everything to my grandparents because all they wanted to do is see him graduate and this way now we can see him graduate with his class,” McKenzie Chatting said.