It has been two years since Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old Chicago honor student who marched in President Barack Obama’s inaugural parade, succumbed to gunshot wounds after being caught in the crossfire during a gang shooting.
However, according to the New York Times, friends, family and even her school have not forgotten the majorette. An empty chair was draped in purple and with flowers to honor her at King College Prep High School’s commencement Tuesday. Her family was presented with a cap, gown and class ring as the student body mourned and celebrated the young teen.
First lady Michelle Obama, who gave the commencement address at the school, attended Hadiya’s 2013 funeral, and has drawn parallels between herself and the deceased teen.
During the commencement, Michelle Obama encouraged the graduates to live their lives with determination and, thus, transform the tragedy.
“If Hadiya’s friends and family could survive their heartbreak and pain, if they could found organizations to honor her unfulfilled dreams, if they could inspire folks across this country to wear orange to protest gun violence, then I know you all can live your life with the same determination and joy that Hadiya lived her life,” Michelle Obama told graduates. “I know you all can dig deep and keep on fighting to fulfill your own dreams.
“Hadiya’s memory is truly a blessing and an inspiration to me and to my husband, and to people across this country and around the world, and we are so grateful for her family’s presence here tonight. Love you all. Love you so much,” the first lady added during the ceremony.
She acknowledged that the graduates have been through a lot, but still she urged them not to let the difficulties weigh them down.
“So maybe you’ve been tested a lot more, and a lot earlier, in life than many other young people; maybe you have more scars than they do,” she said. “[But] you embody all of the courage and love, all of the hunger and hope, that have always defined these communities—our communities. And I am so proud of you all, and I stay inspired because of you, and I can’t wait to see everything you all achieve in the years ahead.”
Read more at the New York Times.