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Triumph and tears at Va. Tech

A student photographed after he was shot claimed his diploma. But faculty and others were mourned.

BLACKSBURG, Va. - The image most people have of Kevin Sterne is harrowing: a photo showing a tourniquet wrapped around his wounded leg as rescue workers rushed him out of Virginia Tech's Norris Hall.

But yesterday, there was a new image of the 22-year-old former Eagle Scout: jubilant and full of life as he limped across the stage with a crutch at the university's Cassell Coliseum, displaying a grin to accept his degree in electrical engineering.

The crowd rose and cheered Sterne in one of the most poignant and touching moments of the commencement ceremony at the College of Engineering.

It was one of several ceremonies in which individual colleges and departments handed out diplomas, including posthumous degrees to those killed in the April 16 attack at a dormitory and a classroom building.

The College of Engineering was hit particularly hard, with 11 students and three professors killed in the shooting.

Engineering Dean Richard Benson, his voice breaking at times, spoke about those slain.

"Forgive me," Benson said quietly as he paused to collect himself while commemorating professor Kevin Granata, who was shot as he tried to save students during the rampage in which 33 people were killed.

The widow of G.V. Loganathan accepted a teaching award in honor of her husband, a man Benson said students fondly regarded as the best professor they ever had, the kindest person they ever met, and incredibly wise.

Another slain professor, Liviu Librescu, a Holocaust survivor, was remembered by the dean for his "profound courage" in blocking his classroom door so his students could escape out the windows. He was among those killed by student gunman Seung-Hui Cho, who took his own life.

Professors, students, their families and friends wept openly as those attending at the political science department's ceremony were asked to remain silent while a bell chimed for each of nine slain students and their posthumous degrees were awarded.

Professor Edward Weisband said he had vivid memories of each of them in class, "attentive, bright, caring."

He promised their families that their children's empty seats "shall always remain in any class I teach."

As the overflow crowd rose to honor several of the department's six injured students who were able to attend, Weisband said, "We take inexpressible joy in your survival."