FRESNO, Calif. -- Graduation night is supposed to be a happy memory for high school students.
But as the San Joaquin Memorial graduates filed in, filling the rows of seats in their cap and gowns, one chair remained empty.
"The whole class isn't here," said Daniel Prieto. "A piece is missing."
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That seat belonged to Nick Kauls, the 17-year-old teen shot and killed in a botched robbery near Fresno's Fig Garden area last June.
Kauls' mother, Lisa, says she's glad to see his friends walk across the stage, but heartbroken her son is not there to join them.
"This is something he should be doing today, with his friend, classmates," she said. "I want the kids that are graduating to celebrate, but I don't want them to forget him."
Inside, Kauls' friends say the teen is there in spirit. Several even held mementos of his life cut short.
"I went by the cemetery before this and prayed with him," said Nick's friend Jordan Mather. "It's a big day for a lot of us, and him, too."
Administrators handed out diplomas with the first one going to Kaul's mother.
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Parents and students erupted in applause as Kauls' friends and mother embraced.
While it's been hard, Kauls' mom says being around her son's friends and sharing his memory brings her comfort.
She leaves the class of 2019 with a message, "work hard, play hard. Take time to smell the roses. Life's short enjoy life."
Mother of murdered teen Nick Kauls accepts her son's diploma at graduation