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Commencement ceremony held at PHS in wake of deaths

One of Plattsburgh High’s graduating seniors who adorned her mortar board with the initials TM, in rememberance of  drowning victim Taoufik Maknani who would have graduated last Saturday.

One of Plattsburgh High’s graduating seniors who adorned her mortar board with the initials TM, in rememberance of drowning victim Taoufik Maknani who would have graduated last Saturday. Photo by Shawn Ryan.

— This past weekend, Plattsburgh High School held commencement ceremonies for the class of 2014 in the wake of the tragic loss of two young Plattsburgh High students. One of those students, Taoufik Maknani, was scheduled to graduate at that ceremony.

School officials struggled to walk a line between an appropriately somber remembrance of two lives taken too soon and a celebration of one of the milestone events in a young person’s life.

On Thursday, June 26 Maknani and a small group of friends from Plattsburgh High were swimming in the Ausable River in Wilmington at a spot commonly referred to as The Flume. At approximately 2:10 p.m., 911 calls began to flood Essex County Emergency Services saying there was a problem at The Flume.

Two members of the group, Maknani and Plattsburgh High junior Michael Lawson, were pulled below the surface by a stronger than normal current, according to later police reports. They did not re-surface.

Maknani’s body was recovered later that day. Lawson’s was not located until Sunday, June 29.

Remembrance

An empty black folding chair, adorned with a bouquet of black and orange flowers, marked the place where 17-year-old Maknani would have sat during the ceremony. Students wore orange arm bands on their left arms with Maknani’s initials. Some adorned their mortar boards with those same initials in remembrance of their friend.

Maknani’s name was one of 132 in the program under “Candidates for Graduation.”

Groups of students could be seen crying, some offering hugs, before the ceremony started at the Plattsburgh State field house. Family members and friends of the graduates could be heard discussing the death of the students in hushed tones in the bleachers. A sign showed support for Lawson’s family, with another remembering Maknani.

As the graduation ceremony began, the mood palpably lightened, but somber overtones were never far away. The most poignant moment came during a slide show of pictures of students of the class of 2014. Several pictures were of Maknani.

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