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Degrees Given Posthumously To Ala. Tornado Victims


NPR's Kathy Lohr attended the weekend ceremonies that honored the graduates.

KATHY LOHR: Students and their families crowded into Coleman Coliseum for the delayed commencement. But this was a celebration mixed with sadness. Tyee Eason came to watch her friend graduate.

TYEE EASON: You see a lot more families here. It's a lot more tears being shed here today that I would normally have seen.

LOHR: After the procession of students, University President Robert Witt acknowledged families who lost their sons and daughters, and each degree was handed out posthumously.

YDSTIE: Morgan M Sigler. Accepting the degree on Morgan's behalf are her parents, Allen and Vega Sigler.


LOHR: Sigler was an art major from Bryant, Alabama. She wanted to be a graphic designer. After the ceremony, Vega Sigler said the past few months have been difficult.

VEGA SIGLER: It's bittersweet because she's not here. But it does acknowledge her accomplishments. She would be proud that we got her diploma.

LOHR: Sigler and her husband, Allen, say they think about their daughter Morgan, and what happened last April, every single day.

SIGLER: I just miss her calling to tell me about her day.

ALLEN SIGLER: And whenever she'd come in, my heart would always just come alive, just the way she made me feel when I got to see her. And I miss that. I truly do miss that.

LOHR: Among the graduates, Joy Doherty says the tragedy has forced people to recognize the tough challenges ahead.

JOY DOHERTY: Some of the needs that are being met in this city are needs that were here long before the tornado ever came. And I think the tornado just changed the hearts of a lot of the people here, and maybe it made them morr aware of some of those needs that needed to be met.

LOHR: It's clear Tuscaloosa and the University of Alabama are strongly connected. The student population represents one third of the city. And thousands of students stayed even after classes were canceled, to help in the search and initial clean-up. So much still needs to be done.


LOHR: At a candlelight vigil, Student Government President Grant Cochran was shaken as he talked a bit about each student who died.

GRANT COCHRAN: Scott, Danielle, Ashley, Melanie Nicole, Morgan, Marcus. The memories are so precious.

LOHR: Scott Atterton played basketball and wanted to be a coach. Ashley Harrison loved her black lab, and planned to become a lawyer. And Morgan Sigler was a daddy's girl who was learning to play golf so she could spend more time with her father.

COCHRAN: We will always love you, miss you, be inspired by you, work harder because of you.

LOHR: Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Tuscaloosa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: August 12, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
A previous headline incorrectly stated that the commencement was a year after the tornadoes in Alabama. The tornadoes actually happened in spring 2011.