A crowd of proud parents cheered graduates Saturday at Hampton Bays High School, taking photos and clapping as their children received diplomas.
But for Hampton Bays mom Dorothy Marino, the moment was bittersweet – she accepted a diploma for her son, Joseph, who was killed by a drunken driver in August 2009.
Saturday would have been his graduation day. The diploma was framed and the matting signed by all of the seniors in his class.
“It was so beautiful,” Marino said. “It took a very painful situation and made it very special.”
In the years since her son, who was 15 at the time, was killed after a drunken driver struck him on Ponquogue Avenue, Marino has crusaded against drinking and driving.
She has established scholarships in her son’s name; three were awarded last week at the high school. At the graduation ceremony, Marino offered heartfelt thanks to the community that has supported her family during their time of despair.
“Everyone reached out and helped us. We just wanted to let them know how much it meant to us,” she said.
One student who received a scholarship, Matthew Burghardt, who was Joseph’s best friend, said losing him “devastated me.” He has decided to pursue a career in law enforcement to prevent similar tragedies.
The Hampton Bays school community was irrevocably changed by the death of a student who was loved by so many, Superintendent Lars Clemensen said.
“It’s hugely symbolic for us and for the Marino family,” Clemensen said. “Joey did have an impact on Hampton Bays, when he was in school here and since 2009 ... This graduating class went through something that was traumatic and life-changing, and it gave them another level of compassion.”