Ryan McCall, the University of Tampa cross-country runner who was shot to death by an armed robber in August, received a posthumous diploma in a private, emotional graduation ceremony this week.
Jarrett Slaven, UT's cross-country and track coach, was at the Tuesday gathering, attended by about 30 people, including McCall's family, in the music room of Plant Hall.
"Ryan was not only a good athlete, he was an excellent student," Slaven said this morning. "He had lots of goals and dreams, and graduating with a diploma was one of them. This closes that chapter."
He said a few tears were shed at the ceremony.
"It was kind of a moving ceremony that meant a lot to everybody there," he said. "It was a ceremony that made you feel proud; emotional, too."
He said McCall was more than a member of the team. His loss is still felt in the university community nine months after his death.
"You think about him every day; he was a big part of the program," Slaven said. "When you have a loss, you learn to deal with it; you learn to support each other. We talk about him a lot now. We learned how to help each other through this.
"This is something you never, ever get over," he said. "The word is cope. You cope, but never get over it."
University spokesman Eric Cardenas said the ceremony was private, attended by McCall's family, including parents Joanne and Kevin McCall, who accepted the diploma; his cross-country teammates; a few professors and coaches; and close friends.
"A few people spoke," Cardenas said. "It was a short program. It was very emotional."
The posthumous diploma was the first granted under a new policy adopted by the faculty within the past few weeks, Cardenas said. The policy was adopted at the urging of the McCall family. Previously, students who died during the academic year were recognized at the regular commencement, but diplomas were not awarded.
McCall, 21, was shot to death Aug. 19 while he and an out-of-town friend walked home from the Retreat bar across from the university. They crossed the North Boulevard bridge en route to McCall's off-campus home when they were confronted by a gunman who demanded money, investigators said. The robber shot McCall as the friend ran and called 911.
Tampa police have not made an arrest in the case.
Janet McNew, UT's provost and vice president of academic affairs, said Tuesday's ceremony was quaint and informal.
"It was a reception, very informal for his family," she said.
"This is what the family wanted. They could have gotten his diploma from commencement (held Saturday), but they chose to do this. I think it was the right choice. It was a very emotional thing for them."
During the ceremony, attendees listened to a short address by McCall's academic advisor and then rose intermittently to talk about McCall, McNew said. Seven or eight people spoke.
"The event itself reminded me a bit of a Quaker meeting," she said. "There were some moments of silence, and people just stood up and talked about Ryan."
Kevin McCall said this morning that the ceremony meant a lot to the family.
"It was very hard on us," he said, "because it should have been him there, not us. It meant that at least he ended the college part of his life. Not everybody gets a diploma in memoriam. It meant a lot, especially to my wife.
"Ryan worked so hard in school and through college."
His son's death will continue to weigh heavy on the family, he said.
Was it closure?
"Not even close," McCall said, "especially with the murderer still out there. I don't know if there is going to be any closure. We just have to move on with life."