ASTON >> The cheers came from all corners for the more than 270 graduates of Academy Park high school as they danced crossed the stage to pick up their diploma during commencement exercises at the Neumann University sports complex Tuesday morning, but the biggest applause was for the one graduate who wasn’t there. Jaion Smith, a beloved member of the school’s football team died in a tragic multi-car accident on I-95 in Tinicum just over one year earlier.

One seat among the graduates was left empty, it included Jaion’s cap and gown.

When the announcer got to Smith’s name, the entire auditorium stood and applauded as officials presented his mother, Marquisha Ransom, with his diploma. Ransom fought back the tears as she held the diploma high for everyone to see.

“He’s with us,” Ransom said. “I feel his presence. He had a big bright spirit, I’m very proud.”

Other members of Smith’s family, including his stepfather Jamal Ransom and father Jason Smith wore shirts with his photo and #LongLiveJaion emblazoned on them.

“We honor our fallen friends and carry on their memory in our hearts,” said Academy Park senior Malcolm Bevans during his valedictorian speech.

Academy Park Principal Nathaniel Robinson urged the graduates to continue their ‘Park Pride.’ He called out each of the school’s groups and teams, from those on the honor roll, to the choir, even to students who took part in the Woman’s empowerment Day and with each group he had them stand while he said “Thank you for brining Park Pride.”

Robinson said 12 members of the class will be enrolling in military service, 16 in trade schools and 163 graduates are college bound.

Academy Park Assistant Principal Dr. Jeffrey Esposito told the graduates that each of them was on the way to completing a marathon and graduating is one milestone in striving to be their best.

“Strive for your goals,” Esposito said. “There will be bumps, but you have the power and control to be the person you want to be. Keep moving forward.”

Class of 2018 Treasurer Nneakmaka Josephine Nwomonoh and Class Secretary Zainab Kamara presented a class gift of two large-screen televisions to the principal.

“Try to live in the moment, this day will turn into memories,” Salutatorian Amy Deng advised her fellow graduates. “We may be venturing into the world, but we will take with us the knowledge learned here in high school.”

“We’re the best kept secret in Delco,” said Valedictorian Malcolm Bevans. “Let’s show the world just what this community has to offer.”

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