BROWARD (CBSMiami) – Instead of watching their kids walk across the stage to get their diploma, parents of nine Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students senselessly taken away walked across the stage themselves to receive a shadow box to remember their child's life on Tuesday.
The class of 2021 were freshman when a horrific shooting on the school's campus killed 17 people and injured 17 more at the hands of a former student in 2018.
Lori Alhadeff's daughter was one of the freshmen killed.
"I just miss you so much, I love you so much. Mom and dad wish you were walking that stage tonight," said Alhadeff. "I know that Alyssa is looking down here today, but she was so vivacious, so much zest for life. I know she would have been going to college and doing amazing things with her life."
It's a similar pain for Tony Montalto. His daughter Gina was also one of the freshmen gunned down.
He's hopeful that her classmates will allow her legacy to one of laughter and smiles rather than the tragedy that took her.
"It's a lot of turmoil. We're happy for her friends that are graduating, but we miss our beautiful daughter Gina," said Montalto. "We could picture her excitement as she bounced around the house getting ready to conclude this chapter of her life and move on to what surely would have been a bright future."
President Joe Biden left a recorded message for the graduating class and the Parkland community as a whole.
"This class lost a piece of its soul. Tested in ways no young person should ever have to face. From a freshman year, a year of unspeakable loss, to a junior and senior year upended by a pandemic," he said. "The story of this class, the Parkland community, isn't just a story of pain. It's a story of resilience, turning pain to purpose, darkness into light."
WEB EXTRA: President Biden's Message For MSD's Graduating Class Of 2021
Many of these parents, including Max Schachter whose son Alex also should have graduated Tuesday, are turning their pain into purpose. They're working to make sure that what happened isn't forgotten about and isn't repeated.
"He's my shining light. He's why I wake up every day is to carry on legacy, because I know what happens if this happens again and the torment it will cause, not only families but entire communities," said Schachter.
The ceremony started at 7 p.m. at the BB&T Center. You can watch it below:
for more features.