- The Washington Times - Monday, May 31, 2004

COLD SPRING, Minn. (AP) — A white rose on an empty chair reminded graduating high school students of their loss.

Seniors at Rocori High School received their diplomas Saturday, seven months after two students were killed in a shooting at the school. One of them, Aaron Rollins, would have graduated Saturday. His older sister, Rachel, accepted his diploma in his place.

Led by the graduates, the crowd stood and applauded as Rachel hugged her parents.

Next in line was Aaron Rollins’ twin, Adam, who smiled when his name was read. He received the second standing ovation of the night.

With their diplomas, each graduate received a small, handmade keepsake from Aaron’s parents, Tom and Sherry Rollins. The keepsake was a small bag with potpourri and Lifesavers attached to a card with Aaron’s name on it. On the back of the card was a poem that ended: “Go out into the world and make it a better place. I will be watching over you with a smile on my face.”

Freshman Jason McLaughlin, 15, is charged with shooting Aaron Rollins and Seth Bartell on Sept. 24 at the high school in Cold Spring, a small town about 60 miles northwest of the Twin Cities. Seth died weeks after the attack.

Andrea Wahlin, president of the student senate, told Saturday’s graduates they’re stronger and more compassionate toward each other since the shooting.

“We’ve found a deeper meaning in the quote, ‘Live every day as if it were the last,’” Andrea said.

Aaron’s father said the day was still one of celebration, even though he didn’t get to see both his sons graduate.

“We’ve told them not to spend time dwelling on Aaron’s death,” Mr. Rollins said.

He added that the shooting meant Aaron’s classmates didn’t get to enjoy a normal senior year of high school.

“Senior year is supposed to be fun,” Mr. Rollins said. “They really haven’t had much of a senior year.”

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