BLACKSBURG, Va. - Some families of the 32 shooting victims couldn't bear to attend Virginia Tech's graduation yesterday. Others said they had no choice but to come.

"We have to. This is right for us," said Peter Read, whose freshman daughter Mary Karen Read was among those killed in the April 16 attack.

The school issued diplomas and class rings to him and relatives of the other 26 student victims. Five faculty members were also slain before the gunman killed himself.

Read had traveled from Annandale with 15 family members for the ceremony, which he said "recognizes what all of the students were here to do. It validates their choices, and it validates what they were doing."

In Washington, D.C., President Bush issued a statement praising "the compassion and resilient spirit" of the Virginia Tech community and the 3,600 graduating seniors and others earning advanced or associate degrees.

"Laura and I salute the Virginia Tech Class of 2007," he said. "We also remember the students and teachers whose lives were taken last month. They will always hold a special place in the hearts of this graduating class and an entire nation."

Richard Roopan, a business information technology major, said the atmosphere on campus was "a little bit more somber than celebratory."

After nearly four weeks of mourning, Roopan said he hopes there will be some joy.

"But you have to remember them, also, and what they could have done and their achievements and how, you know, this moment that we have right now has been taken away from them," he said. *