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Columbine graduation celebrates recovery

By Sean Kelly
Denver Post Staff Writer

May 21 - For high school seniors, graduation marks four years of perseverance. On Saturday morning, Columbine High School's class of 2000 embodied the true meaning of the word.

Nine students injured in last year's shootings took the stage to receive their diplomas, including co-valedictorian Patrick Ireland, the student who crawled through a broken library window on live television.

"When I fell out the window, I knew somebody would catch me," he told the crowd. "That's what I need to tell you - that I knew the loving world was there all the time." About 5,000 people filled the seats at Fiddler's Green Amphitheater for the private graduation ceremony. Parents and friends came to congratulate the 435 graduating seniors sitting down front in their blue and silver gowns.

Ireland finished his high school career with straight A's after being shot twice in the head and left with limited movement on his right side.

Known simply as "the boy in the window" to many who watched as he fell from the library, he stood proudly on stage, telling parents and classmates not just about that day but his entire 13-month journey to graduation.

"It seems like there is change when an event like this occurs, but it only lasts for so long," Ireland said. "This time, I hope what we learned stays with us." Joining Ireland in the graduating class was Anne Marie Hochhalter, who earned straight A's her senior year despite being in a wheelchair.

And Richard Castaldo, the marching band saxophonist also left partially paralyzed.

And Brian Anderson, Jennifer Doyle, Austin Eubanks, Makai Hall, Mark Kintgen and Dan Steepleton - injured survivors who walked the stage to receive their diplomas.

But a day of hope for the future could not be passed without a look back.

Before presenting the school's graduating class, principal Frank DeAngelis requested a moment of silence for the three others from the class of 2000 who were cut down before their graduation day - Cassie Bernall, Corey DePooter and Rachel Scott.

Recalling last April 20, seniors Kelly McIntosh and Sarah Agustini said everything changed from that point forward.

"It is odd to look back and realize that the worst day of your life and the best day of your life can happen at the same time," said McIntosh and Agustini, who delivered a joint commencement address.

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