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FRIDAY, JUNE 1, 2007

Tornado survivors graduate

ENTERPRISE. (AP) — The senior class that valedictorian Julie Boyd said would always be defined by the deadly tornado three months ago graduated Thursday night amid flashing cameras, balloons and shouts of encouragement, but there were also two empty seats in memory of two seniors who died in the storm.

Michael D. Tompkins, 17, and Jamie Ann Vidensek, 17, were among eight students killed March 1 when a hallway collapsed as students huddled together in the corridor as the tornado struck. On the two empty seats were the cap and gown that Tompkins and Vidensek would have worn, along with their diplomas.

Boyd, one of 21 valedictorians, all with perfect 4.0 grade-point averages, told her classmates the storm not only destroyed the high school building, but changed their lives forever.

“None of the students who sat in the hallway that day envisioned the tornado, or that in 30 seconds our precious Enterprise High School would lay in ruin,” Boyd said.

Most of the speakers Thursday night promised to keep their lost classmates always in their hearts.

“To Jamie and Mikey, we wish you were here. We will carry your memory with us forever,” said a farewell message read by valedictorians Jessica Bullinger and Melinda Gooch.

Parents cheered and shouted when their childrens’ names were announced and balloons were released into the air, but the graduates said the storm was never far from their mind as they sat on the football field surrounded by the ruins of the high school.

“I kept thinking that we all survived — that it was amazing,” said senior Josh Beene.

Emily Miller said she was “really excited” to graduate, but kept looking over at the remains of the high school.

Earlier, senior Kayla Boroff said she was glad there were empty chairs for Tompkins and Vidensek.

“They definitely should be part of it. They are part of our class,” said Boroff.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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