As 271 seniors walked across the stage set up on Brett Favre Field on Thursday for Hancock High School's commencement ceremony, they felt the loss of one student who was not among them.
A chair was left empty. It was draped with a purple gown and surrounded by balloons. The seat was reserved for Glenda Rockwell, of Pearlington, who died June 13 after a long battle with Hodgkin's lymphoma.
In his valedictory speech, Grant Collum said he was in France when he found out Rockwell had died, and he looked out of the window and broke into tears.
"My world on the inside began to deteriorate from that point," he said. "Even though I was not close to Glenda, I knew her enough to feel the light from her that shined so brightly."
Collum said remembering Rockwell's life in the tragedy of death helped the class of 2016 bond together.
"Glenda helped instill a gratefulness that I needed, that all of us needed," he said.
Collum said graduating seniors have a notorious tradition of leaving a surprise for Superintendent Alan Dedeaux when they shake hands after receiving their diplomas, but this year, they handed him cash. The money, Collum said, will start a Glenda Rockwell Scholarship Fund.