TAMPA - Hearing the pomp and circumstance music and seeing all the students in their graduation gowns wasn't an easy sight for Stacey Gimson. Her son was supposed to be among them as the senior class at Steinbrenner High School attended commencement ceremonies at the Florida Fairgrounds.
But Frank Vasquez was killed last October by a hit-and-run driver, and his death stunned the student community so much that hundreds showed up for a prayer vigil at the football stadium.
Thursday afternoon Vasquez would have received his diploma. But rather than ignoring the event, Steinbrenner's principal Kelly King invited Gimson to attend the ceremony and asked her to accept her son's diploma in his place.
"It was just an amazing opportunity to continue his legacy and let him graduate the way he always intended," Gimson said.
King announced to the crowd at the expo hall that Gimson was in attendance, and she received a standing ovation when her name was called.
"It was a joy in my heart," Gimson said after receiving the diploma.
To honor their friend, many students wore blue wristbands that said "Frank the Tank," as Vasquez was on the wrestling team.
Gimson said while she appreciated being part of the ceremony, it was still difficult not to think about her son, whom she lovingly called "Vic" for his middle name, Victor.
"I was sad," Gimson said. "Our ultimate goal was to have Vic here."
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