The family of Northern Arizona University student Nick Acevedo feels like they’re repeating one of life’s cruelest events after university officials declined the family’s request to mention Acevedo during this month’s graduation ceremonies.
Karin Acevedo, Nick’s mom, said her son committed suicide in March. Nick Acevedo witnessed the October 2015 shooting where Colin Brough was killed and three other NAU students were injured. Karin Acevedo said the shooting devastated him.
He had struggled with depression in the past but things seemed to be going well this year. His death came as a shock to his family, fraternity brothers and friends, she said.
“I had just talked to him a couple of days earlier,” she said. She was sick with the flu and Nick had called her several times to see how she was doing. He sounded happy. He was looking forward to coming home for spring break and attending Coachella.
“He had a lot to look forward to. It (his death) was a real shock,” she said.
Karin Acevedo said she reached out to the university a few weeks ago about granting Nick a posthumous degree. He was a senior psychology major and had finished the majority of his course work before his death.
Karin Acevedo said she received a call back about a week ago, saying the university would honor Nick with a degree in a private ceremony. She asked if his name could be read during the regular graduation ceremonies scheduled. Nick Acevedo would have walked with his classmates on May 12.
She was told by university officials that his name would not be announced because it was not part of the school’s policy.
“I was told it would take away from the other graduates at the ceremony,” Karin Acevedo said.
She said she wasn’t asking for a special moment of silence or even special recognition for her son during the ceremony. She just wanted his name read, like any other graduate, during the ceremony.
NAU spokesperson Kim Ott stated in an email, “The recognition of academic accomplishments at commencement is a milestone. For a family that has lost a loved one, having their educational endeavor recognized posthumously is a verification that they achieved this honorable goal.
"The history of NAU has been to grant degrees to students who passed prior to graduation, but who had completed significant degree credits toward graduation, with President Cheng presenting diplomas privately to the families," she said. "The presentation of the diploma in a private ceremony is designed to be sensitive to the feelings of all who are taking part in the commencement and the atmosphere of celebration. NAU remains available to the Acevedo family for a private presentation, recognizing Nicholas’ academic achievement and extend our deepest sympathy to the family for their loss.“
“I was just so amazed that they couldn’t do something so small,” Karin Acevedo said. “He deserves to be recognized. His friends and fraternity brothers want him to be recognized. It would give the family a small bit of peace.”
Nick Acevedo’s grandfather, William Noble, also wrote a letter to NAU President Rita Cheng, asking her to reconsider the university’s decision.
“I am unable to comprehend the rationale for such a ruling which, on its face, can only be described as cruel. I would implore you to reconsider this decision,” he wrote.
The family is waiting to hear from Cheng, Karin Acevedo said. She said it would be hard to travel to NAU to accept Nick’s degree but there are plenty of his friends who have stepped forward to tell her that they would accept it on the family’s behalf.
“We’re not asking for anything special. It’s just so cruel, so cold that they won’t allow his friends to accept it,” she said. “I just want people to know he existed.”