As the latest graduating class at Saginaw Valley State University accepted their diplomas, hearts were heavy as students remembered a classmate that should have been celebrating with them.
That student was killed in an accident nearly one year ago.
At 23-years-old, Evan Willman had nearly completed his master's degree.
On Friday, his mother accepted an honorary degree on Willman's behalf.
Willman died in an accident on a country road in Midland County. He was engaged and dreamed of being an occupational therapist working with children.
"He really had an affinity with kids. They really liked him too. He really loved children," said Rebecca Willman, his mother.
On Friday, he earned his master's degree and his mom walked in his place.
"We're proud. We're grateful. And we miss him," she said.
His classmates do as well. They honored him by wearing flannel ribbons.
"Evan wanted to develop a sense of camaraderie with his cohorts. So he conned his, talked his professors to do flannel Fridays," Rebecca Willman said.
The students got to wear flannel on Friday instead of their usual business attire.
"I'm actually wearing a flannel under here to kinda commemorate him a little bit, you know," said Cody Zietz, Evan Willman's best friend.
His classmates walked with his spirit as they earned their degrees with him.
"I know that he's gonna be up there looking at me and smiling at me," Zietz said.
The Midland man who was driving when Willman died was sentenced to seven days in jail, as well as fines, one year of probation and monitoring by an alcohol tether for six months.
Copyright 2017 WNEM (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.