The program distributed at the Cold Spring Harbor High School graduation Sunday morning listed 171 members of the Class of 2014, including Cody Taddonio.
But Taddonio was noticeably absent.
The 17-year-old senior died suddenly in his sleep on Dec. 8, 2013, and as his classmates said goodbye to their high school years, they kept his memory alive.
Silence came over the school gymnasium, as the graduates, families and faculty members paid tribute to Taddonio to start the ceremony.
Senior Jaclyn Albers, who was celebrating her 18th birthday, said that a few hundred students and their families came out for a 3-kilometer walk on the school grounds to honor him.
“He was one of the greatest kids you could ever know,” she said after the ceremony. “He had one of the greatest smiles, and he gave the best hugs.”
One of Taddonio’s closest friends, John Ryan DeLiso, also wore a “Team Cody” sticker on the top of his graduation cap. He said they had been friends since kindergarten.
“He had a very warm and loving personality,” said DeLiso, 19. “He could just go into any room . . . and everybody just loved him within minutes.”
DeLiso credited Taddonio with talking him into trying out for the wrestling team during their junior year. Taddonio was in the midst of his fourth varsity wrestling season and had recently been voted team captain when his mother found him unresponsive in his bed when she attempted to wake him. The cause of death was not made public.
Losing his friend at such a young age, DeLiso said he’s learned “not to take anything for granted,” and to “live life to the fullest.”
He’s also seen how despite tragedy, “life just kind of moves on.”
DeLiso is heading off to SUNY Fredonia to study music education, but there’s one part of his friend he will always carry with him, he said.
“His laugh, definitely his laugh,” he said. “He was really a special person.”