Florida high school denies students' request to honor classmate who died at graduation

Students want empty chair at graduation ceremony
Posted at 4:53 PM, Apr 11, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-12 05:08:08-04

Classmates at a high school in Central Florida were denied their request to leave an empty chair at their graduation ceremony to remember a student who died in February.

Isaac Mercado, a student at Hugson High School, is one of many who oftern go to a corner off Little Road to remember Felicia Baxter.

“She was a powerful person in our lives,” Mercado said. 

Felicia, a Hudson High School senior, was about to turn 18 when she died after a car she was riding in crashed at the spot in February.

There is a white cross there now with her name and many of her friends write loving messages on the back.

Now with graduation coming next month, her classmates want to leave an empty chair at the ceremony in Felicia’s honor.

“They don’t want anything major. They don’t want a memorial,” said Felicia’s mother Jana Vento.

Vento is touched by the gesture that’s been done before at schools around the country.

“They just want her to have a spot. And I think that’s amazing that my daughter touched that many people to be able to have them to want her to be there and have a spot,” said Vento.

But students said Hudson’s administration turned down the request, even with an online petition that received more than 1,200 signatures.

“It hurts me a lot because my daughter would do this for anybody else. And these kids have taken their time and have done this the right way,” said Vento.

Felicia’s mom said the school is allowing her to go on stage at graduation May 27 to accept her daughter’s diploma. The marching band Felicia was a part of will also perform, but it’s that chair her friends and family really want.

“There’s compassion and there’s love. It’s trying to give them some sense of closure,” said Vento.

Minutes after we interviewed Felicia's mother, she got an email from Hudson high’s principal, saying they could meet next week to discuss graduation.

The school district said there is no official policy for this kind of thing, and no final decision has been made yet.

The district also said two years ago when a Hudson High School student died, they did not have an empty chair because “many, many seniors have stated now and in the past that they didn’t want to be the one to sit next to the empty chair. It would make them feel awkward and sad on the happiest day of their life. They just want to honor their friend and peer in a different way.”