Local News


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

Hoping to leave empty chair at graduation ceremony
Posted at 1:53 PM, Apr 11, 2017

Isaac Mercado is one of many who go to a corner off Little Road in Florida to remember Felicia Baxter.

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

Felicia, a Hudson (Fla.) High School senior, was about to turn 18. But 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. Many of her friends wrote 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 school’s 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,” Vento said.

But students said Hudson’s administration turned down the request, even with an online petition that received more than 12-hundred 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,” Vento said.

Felicia’s mom said the school is going to let her go up at graduation on May 27 and 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,” Vento said.

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 was made yet.

The district also said two years ago when a Hudson high 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.”