Philadelphia students killed by violence among those honored during mid-year graduation ceremony

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- It's called the Philadelphia School District's mid-year graduation ceremony, and it includes a good deal of inspiration, but also a measure of tragedy.

More than 100 graduates took to the stage to receive diplomas from the School District of Philadelphia's mid-year graduation for the alternative education program.

But, before the applause Monday night, there was a bittersweet moment when four chairs remained empty on stage with white roses on the seats. The chairs were in honor of four students who died tragically, three to violence and one to a car crash. The students' family members were brought up on stage.

The school program accepts students who are out of school, including adults.

Some students are high school age but at risk of dropping out. Some had disciplinary issues at traditional high school.

Don Williams is receiving his diploma at 47.

"When I saw my son walk down the aisle and graduate from school and that gave me the motivation to go back and get my high school diploma," said Williams.

Christopher Rogers-Pilla, blind since birth, is a musician and is now ready to get his music career off the ground.

"I will be getting my associates degree in sound recording and music tech from the Community College of Philadelphia," he said.

The Opportunity Network of Philadelphia is the name of the program. The executive director, Dawnlynne Kacer, says the program is unique compared to large cities across the country.

"We allow students of any age to come back into our schools and earn a traditional high school diploma," said Kacer.
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