TAMPA — There were no graduation caps or gowns, no cowbells ringing from the crowd. There were no commencement speeches or congratulatory smiles.
Instead, there was a quiet gathering filled with quiet applause and quiet recognition of a job, although left unfinished, still well done.
Nine months after his murder, Ryan McCall of Holiday graduated from the University of Tampa on Tuesday afternoon with a posthumous bachelor's of science degree in exercise science.
His parents accepted the diploma from provost Janet McNew at a ceremony at Plant Hall while McCall's former roommates, coaches and family watched.
"It was a bittersweet moment," said Kevin McCall, Ryan's older brother. "We were honored to be accepting it for him, but it should have been him.
Entering what would have been his senior year, McCall, 21, was killed in the early hours of Aug. 19 after he was robbed walking over the N Boulevard bridge.
A man jumped from the bushes, took the few dollars McCall and his friend had and shot McCall before fleeing.
The friend, 21-year-old Michael Harahan, ran and called police. No arrests have been made and police have not named a suspect.
The special degree added a positive light to the terrible event, said Joe Ranalli, one of McCall's former roommates at UT. But not knowing who did this or why is still something that bothers family and friends.
"Once they catch the guy who did this, it's all going to be back open again and right now it feels like we are just sitting there waiting for it to happen," Ranalli said.
Kevin McCall said mourning his son's death is more difficult each day. Maybe it's the shock wearing off, he guesses.
It's especially tough during special moments such as graduation and other once-in-a-lifetime events that his son will never be able to celebrate, he said.
Some things make grieving easier — like seeing his son's running shoe, now gold-plated, behind glass in the school's athletic center.
Across the street at Tampa Preparatory School, where McCall volunteered as a track coach, an engraved brick paver graces the entrance to that school's sports complex. "IN OUR HEARTS YOU WILL REMAIN UNTIL THE DAY WE MEET AGAIN," it says.
"It's mixed emotions," said the elder McCall. "You're glad that he touched so many people, but it still saddens your heart that he's not here."
McCall's is the first posthumous degree UT has officially awarded since adopting a policy that McCall's family helped shape, said provost McNew.
The policy acknowledges the loss of a student and honors the enduring connection between the student and the school by awarding the deceased student a degree, she said.
The policy is something that both the provost and the McCall family thought the university needed.
"From now on, every student after Ryan — if, God forbid, it happens — will have the ceremony, too," said the elder McCall.
Kim Wilmath can be reached at (813)661-2442 or email@example.com. Shelley Rossetter can be reached at (813) 226-3374 or firstname.lastname@example.org.