ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Seniors at STEM School Highlands Ranch graduated at the Broncos’ training center Monday.
The ceremony honored 18-year-old Kendrick Castillo, who was fatally shot when he and two classmates tackled one of the two shooters May 7. The shooting came during the last week of classes for Castillo and his fellow seniors.
Castillo was awarded the first diploma of the night to a standing ovation. His diploma was accepted on behalf of his family by his best friend, Jordan Monk.
Friendship and love were the overarching themes at the graduation.
“I hope if you’ve learned anything, it’s that we all need each other. We need to support each other,” said Mike Shallenberger, a teacher who spoke during the ceremony.
Valedictorian Emma Goodwill said Monday the attack does not define the school, although she will take the events with her through life.
“It was an attack on so many things, but it was also an attack on this common ideological foundation that was fundamentally the center of our school: mutual respect for our peers’ individuality. A love for each student’s personal and particular nature,” she said. “However, Kendrick’s personal nature was not shaken. He continued to love and to protect just as he had. Kendrick died as he lived.”
Goodwill asked her classmates to “love so fully and fundamentally like Kendrick,” who she described as a “gracious, kind, funny and genuinely joyful kid.”
“Kendrick’s identity does not lie in the fact that he died protecting our school and our classmates, but rather that it was so fundamentally him to love that much,” she said.
Castillo and classmates Brendan Bialy and Joshua Jones were credited with helping minimize the bloodshed by charging at one of the suspects in a classroom.
According to Bialy, Castillo sprang into action against the shooter “and immediately was on top of him with complete disregard for his own safety.” Jones, 18, said he was shot twice in the leg before Bialy was able to take the attacker’s gun.
Two students, ages 18 and 16, were arrested at the school and are facing dozens of charges, including murder, attempted murder, arson and theft.
Besides Castillo, eight students were shot during the attack. They have since been released from the hospital.