Tornado-delayed graduation finally held at Alabama

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - About 3,300 University of Alabama graduates have finally gotten the chance to walk in cap and gown, more than three months after a tornado hit Tuscaloosa and forced their commencement to be postponed.

The university held graduation exercises for its class of 2011 on Saturday and Friday night. The school awarded 4,770 degrees in all during three ceremonies, with about 70 percent for students who were to graduate in May but had to wait because of the deadly twister that struck near campus on April 27.

Several hundred people attended a candelight memorial service Friday night for the six students who died in the storm. All six received posthumous degrees.

University spokeswoman Cathy Andreen told The Associated Press on Saturday night that the memorial service was "an emotional ceremony but I think it meant a lot to the family and to everyone else who was there."

"It gave us a chance to bring some closure to everything that happened in April," she said.

Among those to attend the memorial service was Cecilianne King. She received her bachelor's degree in psychology on Saturday but is still coping with the death of her roommate Ashley Harrison.

"I'll be thinking of Ashley all the time because she's going to be with me," King told The Birmingham News.

During the morning ceremony, Ashley's parents, David and Darlene Harrison, went on stage and accepted the posthumous degree from the business school on behalf of their daughter. Darlene Harrison wiped away tears as she held the degree. The Texas couple both wore badges with a photo of their smiling daughter.

"It's amazing the love the university has shown," Darlene Harrison said afterward, according to the newspaper.

Others who accepted posthumous diplomas were relatives of Danielle M. Downs, Melanie Nicole Mixon, Morgan M. Sigler and Marcus Jeremy Smith. Storm victim Brandon Scott Atterton's mother could not attend.

The EF-4 twister that ravaged Tuscaloosa was among 62 tornadoes that hit Alabama on April 27, leaving dozens dead.