PHOENIX (KSAZ) - It was a bittersweet graduation day at Grand Canyon University this morning when a mother accepted a diploma on behalf of her late daughter.
Shortly after the commencement ceremony began, president of GCU, Brian Mueller, made mention of a special student.
"One of our students, one of the best students that's attended this university, Karli Richardson, was killed in a head-on automobile accident on I-17 as her and her sister were going to the Grand Canyon to see the sunrise," he said.
Among the graduates who sat in the audience listening and wearing their black gowns and caps with colorful messages scribbled on the back was Karli's mom. Her message was spoken louder than the others.
"In memory of Karli Richardson, her diploma is presented to her mother, Catherine Hocking," the speaker said.
Hocking, who lives in North Carolina, knew today's ceremony was a moment she couldn't miss.
"Today, I am here to represent Karli and she worked so incredibly hard for this," she said. "I'm excited, I"m sad. Karli should be here without media. Karli should be jumping up and down on that stage. Next year, Kelsey should be..."
Fighting through the heartache, Hocking proudly accepted Karli's diploma in communication, while wearing her younger daughter's medal. Eighteen-year-old Kelsey, who was also killed in the crash, was set to graduate from Western Carolina next year. She was planning to attend medical school.
Hocking says she has one purpose as Karli and Kelsey's mom; to make sure their memory lives on with the Lord's guidance.
"I think, though, that God knew that because of who they were and how they lived their lives for him that if he took them, people would pay attention," she said.