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‘It gets better’: Jimmy Fallon brings hope, laughter to somber Parkland graduation

During a large but private graduation ceremony on Sunday, seniors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High closed the door on a school year marked by tragedy.

Inside the BB&T Center in Sunrise, the arena where the Florida Panthers professional hockey team plays, more than 400 students donned caps and gowns as their names were called out to cheers and they collected their well-earned diplomas.

It was a bittersweet day, as the Class of 2018 both celebrated their achievement and honored the memory of classmates that could not join them.

Four graduating seniors — Nicolas Dworet, Joaquin Oliver, Carmen Schentrup and Meadow Pollack — were killed during the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in February.

Shannon Recor, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, talks to the media about her graduation ceremony at the BB&T Center in Sunrise on Sunday, June 3, 2018.

Two other seniors — Kaitlyn Critelli and Ethan Lalinde — died in 2016 and were honored during the ceremony.

The school held a moment of silence Sunday for the 17 victims of the Parkland shooting.

Family representatives received posthumous diplomas and graduation caps encased once glass on behalf of the seniors.

Following planned remarks from the school’s principal and the Broward County Schools superintendent, and a performance of the Parkland-inspired song “Shine,” surprise guest speaker and talk show host Jimmy Fallon took the stage to applause and cheers.

The former “Saturday Night Live” cast member brought laughter to the crowd and thanked the students for their bravery in the face of such brutality and sadness.

“When something feels hard, remember that it gets better,” he said. “Choose to move forward. Don’t let anything stop you.”

Andrew Pollack, Meadow’s father and an active proponent of school safety, did not attend the ceremony but instead said his son Hunter would collect the 18-year-old’s diploma on Sunday.

“Today my baby should be walking across the stage to receive her high school diploma. Instead her brother @PollackHunter is receiving it on her behalf because she was killed,” Pollack wrote on Twitter.

Manuel and Patricia Oliver, whose 17-year-old son Joaquin died in the shooting, were quoted in a Tweet by their advocacy group Change the Ref as saying, “Today was supposed to be our son Joaquin’s high school graduation. This is exactly the moment when the mission is more important than how we feel.”

In photos posted to social media, Patricia Oliver is seen holding up her son’s cap and gown while wearing a shirt that says “This should be my son.”

April Schentrup, whose daughter Carmen was killed in the shooting, did not attend the ceremony but expressed her happiness for the graduates.

“For me, it is too painful to celebrate w/o Carmen. But I am proud of Carmen’s friends & classmates on their accomplishments. They’ve overcome so much. I know they will [continue] to make positive changes,” Schentrup wrote on Twitter.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that family representatives received glass-encased graduation gowns on behalf of their students. They received graduation caps and diplomas.

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