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The University of Alabama

UA in the News: August 6-8, 2011

UA to Hold Commencement Ceremonies and Candlelight Vigil
Al. com – Aug. 5
The University of Alabama’s August graduation ceremonies will take a somber tone tonight as students and their families, UA faculty and staff and Tuscaloosa residents honor the memories of six students and other tornado victims in a candlelight service in Foster Auditorium at 8:30 p.m. Current SGA President Grant Cochran and 2010-2011 SGA President James Fowler emphasized the role of the university community as a family in an interview Friday afternoon. “To be able to take a moment amidst all the recovery, amidst all the relief efforts that are still going on within our community, it is extraordinarily important to make sure that we do remember the students that lost their lives during the storm and honor their memory,” Cochran said…
Fox 6 (Birmingham) – Aug. 5
WVUA (Tuscaloosa) – Aug. 5
WKRG (Mobile) – Aug. 5
WPMI (Mobile) – Aug. 5
KOLD (Tucson, Az.) – Aug. 5
WAAY (Huntsville) – Aug. 5
WAFF (Huntsville) – Aug. 5
WHNT (Huntsville) – Aug.5
WMBF (Florence, S.C.) –Aug. 5
WAKA (Montgomery) – Aug. 5
WSFA (Montgomery) – Aug. 5
WTVM (Columbus, Ga.) – Aug. 5
WXTX (Columbus, Ga.) – Aug. 5

Tears, roses mark candlelight vigil for UA tornado victims
Tuscaloosa News – Aug. 6
…Friday night, Cochran, UA’s current SGA president took on the difficult task during UA’s candlelight vigil…As Cochran spoke about each student, a rose was placed next to an unlit candle and was later presented to each student’s family. He ended his remarks by addressing both those lost and their families. “Scott, Danielle, Ashley, Melanie Nicole, Morgan and Marcus, your memories are so precious and we will always love you, miss you, be inspired by you and work harder because of you,” he said. “And to their families, thank you so much for sharing your sons and daughters with us. “We loved them, too.” The emotional vigil lasted only 30 minutes. Long enough for each story to be told and for Cochran, past SGA President James Fowler and Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox to speak. At the end of the service, a brass ensemble played the university’s alma mater before six chimes rang out in the auditorium to mark each student’s passing…
WVUA (Tuscaloosa) – Aug. 5
WKRG (Mobile) – Aug. 5
WPMI (Mobile) – Aug. 5
KOLD (Tucson, Az.) – Aug. 5
WAAY (Huntsville) – Aug. 5
WAFF (Huntsville) – Aug. 5
WMBF (Florence, S.C.) –Aug. 5
WSFA (Montgomery) – Aug. 5
WTVM (Columbus, Ga.) – Aug. 5
WXTX (Columbus, Ga.) – Aug. 5
ABC 33/40 (Birmingham) – Aug. 5
CBS 42 (Birmingham) – Aug. 5
WCOV (Montgomery) – Aug. 5
WLTZ (Columbus, Ga.) – Aug. 5
WTVM (Columbus, Ga.) –Aug. 5
NBC 13 (Birmingham) – Aug. 5 and 6
Fox 6 (Birmingham) – Aug. 5 and 6
WREG (Memphis, Tenn.) – Aug. 6
WXCW (Ft. Myers, Fla.) – Aug. 6
WZDX (Huntsville) – Aug. 6
WDEF (Chattanooga, Tenn.) – Aug. 6
WHNT (Huntsville) – Aug. 6
WAKA (Montgomery) – Aug. 6

Tornado-delayed graduation finally held at Alabama
Associated Press — Aug. 6 (used extensively nationwide in print, television, radio, and web media)
About 3,300 University of Alabama graduates are finally walking in cap and gown, more than three months after a tornado hit Tuscaloosa and forced their commencement to be postponed. The university held graduation exercises for its class of 2011 on Saturday and Friday night. The school says it’s awarding 4,770 degrees in all during three ceremonies, and about 70 percent are for students who were supposed to graduate in May but had to wait because of the twister that struck near campus on April 27. Several hundred people attended a memorial service that was held Friday night for the half-dozen students who died in the storm. All six are receiving posthumous degrees. The EF-4 twister that ravaged Tuscaloosa was among 62 tornadoes that hit Alabama on April 27.
Washington Post – Aug. 6
Boston Globe – Aug. 6
New England Cable News – Aug. 6
Albany Times-Union – Aug. 6
Houston Chronicle – Aug. 6
Huffington Post – Aug. 6 – Aug. 6
Sacramento Bee – Aug. 6
Daily Mail (London, England) – Aug. 7 (with photos)
Montgomery Advertiser – Aug. 7
Kansas City Star – Aug. 6
Good Morning America — ABC Network – Aug. 8
Fox News Network – Aug. 7
The Weather Channel – Aug. 6
WCBS (New York, N.Y.) – Aug. 6
KOAM (Joplin, Mo.) – Aug. 6
WLS (Chicago) – Aug. 8
WGN (Chicago) – Aug. 7
KTVT (Dallas, Tex.) –Aug. 7
WAGA (Atlanta) –Aug. 7
WPLG (Miami, Fla.) – Aug. 7
WDEF (Chattanooga, Tenn.) – Aug. 6
WDSI (Chattanooga, Tenn.) –Aug. 6
WVUA (Tuscaloosa) – Aug. 6
WKRG (Mobile) – Aug. 6
WPMI (Mobile) – Aug. 6
WAAY (Huntsville) – Aug. 6
WAFF (Huntsville) – Aug. 6
ABC 33/40 (Birmingham) – Aug. 6
CBS 42 (Birmingham) – Aug. 6
NBC 13 (Birmingham) – Aug. 6
Fox 6 (Birmingham) – Aug. 6

After tornado, Alabama students finally get graduation day – Aug. 6
…In the Coleman Coliseum, named after a long-time Crimson Tide historian, 4,770 young men and women, draped in black gowns emblazoned with red letter A’s, marched down the aisles…This weekend’s graduation helped bring closure, students said, and will help them start anew. Friday night, the names of the six students who were killed were said aloud at a candlelight vigil on campus. Scott Atterton, Danielle Downs, Ashley Harrison, Melanie Nixon, Morgan Sigler and Marcus Smith. Their families watched as former student government President James Fowler laid a red rose for each of their loved ones. “Tonight we honor them,” Fowler said. “Tonight we heal.” At the first of two undergraduate commencement ceremonies Saturday, University President Robert Witt called the names of their parents. They stood to applause and then accepted posthumous bachelor degrees on behalf of their children… Rev. Kelvin Croom, whose church was destroyed in the storm, said it was time for the university, for the entire community to move on. “It was admirable of the university to postpone the graduation,” said Croom, whose congregation includes five graduating students. “It’s closure but also an opening. It’s the beginning of another school year. What an awesome way to start it.” In another part of Alabama, Scott Atterton’s mother stayed at home Saturday. The tribute to her son was too painful to bear. But she plans to hang Atterton’s degree in her house, a mark of his accomplishment given to him on a day when the University of Alabama reached an emotional milestone.

Alabama gives posthumous degrees to students killed by tornadoes (with photos)
MSNBC (Via Reuters) – Aug. 6
Two days after a tornado took her sister’s life in April, Michelle Downs Whatley crossed the stage at her own college graduation wearing her lost sister’s shoes, salvaged from the wreckage. Saturday, she strode again in her sister’s shoes, figuratively this time, as the University of Alabama granted Danielle Downs a posthumous degree. Five of the six families of students who perished in the storm gathered to receive posthumous degrees. Two siblings and three sets of parents, most teary-eyed, accepted the plaques and hugs offered by University President Robert Witt. “You picture seeing your daughter doing this, not doing it for her,” Allan Sigler told Reuters after the ceremony. He is the father of Morgan Sigler, 23, who died along with two friends when the tornado swept her home from its foundation…
KFOR (Oklahoma City, Okla.) – Aug. 6

UA grads, families say postponed commencement gives closure – Aug. 6
Hundreds of family members and friends watched their loved ones receive their degrees in the first of two commencement ceremonies held by the University of Alabama on Saturday…After receiving her bachelor’s degree in psychology on Saturday, Cecilianne King talked about the postponed commencement as an ending point to her undergraduate years as she continues to cope with the loss of her roommate Ashley Harrison…”I’ll be thinking of Ashley all the time because she’s going to be with me,” King said. “But also, she’s graduated, and I’m done — and it’s moving on.” Cecilianne King’s mother Jennie King praised the university for awarding posthumous degrees to families at the beginning of the ceremony and then giving graduates the opportunity to celebrate their achievements. “It was bittersweet, but the university handled it very well,” she said…

Families of tornado victims receive posthumous diplomas at University of Alabama commencement (photos)
Birmingham News – Aug. 6
Darlene and David Harrison were touched by the outreach at The University of Alabama‘s 181st commencement ceremony this morning at Coleman Coliseum…The Harrisons, a Texas couple, accepted a diploma from the university’s Culverhouse College of Commerce and Business Administration for their daughter, Ashley Therese Harrison. Ashley, a senior, died in the tornado that struck not long before she was to march in the regular spring commencement. The ceremony ended up being postponed due to the tragedy.  “It’s amazing the love the university has shown,” Darlene Harrison said after the ceremony…University officials said an estimated 12,000 people attended this morning’s commencement. Another ceremony is scheduled this afternoon…

AP Story with photos
National Public Radio – Aug. 6

UA Graduation Photo Gallery
Birmingham News – Aug. 6

In Tuscaloosa, A Commencement Comes A Year Late (with audio story)
National Public Radio – Aug. 7
This weekend, the University of Alabama will award degrees to students who would have received them last spring had a devastating tornado not postponed graduation. During ceremonies, the school will honor the six students killed in the storm. NPR’s Kathy Lohr reports.

Students get degrees posthumously
UPI – Aug. 7
The families of five of six students killed in an April tornado accepted their posthumous degrees from the University of Alabama, officials said. Family members walked across the stage Saturday to receive degrees for students killed when a tornado struck Tuscaloosa and the university April 27, the Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News reported…”She always took care of me,” said Michelle Kathleen Downs Whatley, Downs’ sister, who accepted the diploma in her sister’s absence. University President Robert Witt said he is proud of how everyone at the school behaved in the tornado’s aftermath. “When we look back on April 27, it is the resilience of our Alabama family that stands out,” Witt said…

Families accept degrees for Alabama tornado victims
Tuscaloosa News – Aug. 7
…Downs was set to graduate in May with a degree in social work, said her mother, Terri Linn. “She earned her degree,” Linn said, “It was not just given to her.”…In the invocation, the Rev. Kennard C. Smith of the United Methodist Church urged those in attendance to take a silent moment of reflection. “Let’s remember the tornado,” Smith said, “And give thanks for the students whose accomplishments we are celebrating.”

Graduation day bittersweet for parents of storm victim
Chattanooga Times-Free Press – Aug. 7
Saturday was the day Morgan Sigler had talked about for years — the day she would march with her classmates in black gowns, flip her red tassel to the left and wave to her family in the proud walk back to her seat. Saturday came and hundreds of students marched across the stage at Coleman Coliseum at the University of Alabama…But 23-year-old Morgan Sigler, of Bryant, Ala., was not there. She and five other students — Scott Atterton, Danielle Downs, Ashley Harrison and Melanie Nicole Mixon — were killed April 27 when a tornado ripped a gash through the heart of Tuscaloosa.Sigler and Atterton were lifelong friends from Bryant. Sigler’s boyfriend, Blake Peek, also died that night…On Friday evening, students, faculty and family gathered for a short memorial service. “In the days after the storm, we had to send the students home — there was no sense of closure and no opportunity to celebrate the lives of the students,” University of Alabama President Robert Witt said. “We want to both mourn their loss and celebrate what they accomplished in their lives.”…For the Siglers, the weekend was a way to reach out to their daughter’s friends and build more memories of the daughter they miss so much. They shared stories with her art professors and fellow students… “It is something to hold onto, to remember her by,” Allan Sigler said. “This university has been unbelievable how they have reached out to us. God has used them to help us.” The art students have made pottery and pieces of jewelry for the Siglers. The department also did an art show of Morgan’s work this summer…

Danielle gets degree
Decatur Daily – Aug. 7 (Subscription required)
…The 24-year-old from Priceville was just days from crossing that stage when the horrifying tornadoes found Tuscaloosa on April 27. She died that afternoon with two friends and 45 others in the city. On Saturday, Michelle Downs Whatley, wearing her late sister’s shoes, made the traditional walk across the graduation stage an emotional one.  In Danielle’s honor, Michelle was handed one of five degrees awarded posthumously to victims of the storm…A special vigil for Downs was held Friday, in which classmates and educators remembered her with anecdotes…”The School of Social Work is a small department,” said Terri Downs, Danielle’s mother. “But she was able to make a difference and help them continue on with their studies in any way. “She inspired them.” And when it was time for one final tribute at her university, Terri Downs knew exactly how Danielle should be honored. She asked UA President Robert Witt, who called soon after Danielle’s death to express his sadness and ask what the university could do for her family. “I said, ‘Can my daughter Michelle walk for Danielle?'” Terri Downs said.

Graduation Photo Gallery
Tuscaloosa News – Aug. 7

University of Alabama’s commencement weekend brings healing, celebrates students – Aug. 8
The University of Alabama awarded more than 4,000 degrees to students over the weekend in three commencement ceremonies for spring and summer graduates just over a hundred days after a tornado devastated Tuscaloosa and killed six UA students. On Friday night, the university awarded degrees to graduate students and held a candlelight memorial service for Scott Atterton, Danielle Downs, Ashley Harrison, Melanie Nicole Mixon, Morgan Marlene Sigler and Marcus Smith, who died in the April 27 tornado. 2010-2011 UA SGA President James Fowler said that the remembrance gave the university community the opportunity to come together and share a “sense of healing.” At the 9 a.m. ceremony for undergraduates on Saturday, families of the tornado victims accepted posthumous diplomas before degrees were awarded to students. Darlene Harrison, who received a diploma with her husband David for their daughter Ashley, said that the ceremony has helped the healing process.   “It removes the terrible trauma that we received from getting her death certificate,” Harrison told the Birmingham News. “She worked for it.” May graduates Cecilianne King and Abigail Wright said they returned to campus for Saturday’s exercises to celebrate their achievements with their families and to mark an ending point to their time at UA. “I really believe this university molded me and made me the person that I am. With all the experiences, the tragedies, the good times, I have  come out a better person and stronger person,” Wright said. King and Wright said that they believed the commencement weekend brought a sense of closure to their undergraduate days and to the events of April 27.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.