Harlem High School seniors eschewed the traditional red and black tassels Saturday to turn those colored orange and blue to mark themselves as graduates.
The orange and blue are those of the Florida Gators, the favorite college football team of Jonathan Hartman, who died May 8 in a single-vehicle wreck in Appling.
Though not present at James Brown Arena for the commencement ceremony, Hartman’s presence was felt thanks to his classmates.
The chair Hartman, 18, would have occupied remained empty except for an orange and blue ribbon tied to it and later given to his family, which includes Kiokee Baptist Church pastor Steve Hartman.
As new graduates left the arena floor, each received a Bible donated by Kiokee Baptist with “In loving memory of Jonathan Hartman” inscribed in the front.
In her speech, valedictorian Falon Sellers recognized Hartman’s absence, saying she and her classmates were sad.
Still, graduation is a time for saying goodbye while celebrating the future, she said.
“We’re each going in different directions, but we’ll always have Harlem,” she said.
Graduate Marlee Garner, 17, also noted the bittersweet nature of the ceremony.
“We’re so much like a family and now we’re going our separate ways,” Garner said. “You could probably see us on stage making faces at each other to keep from crying.”