Conklin family to receive honorary diploma at Senior Awards Ceremony

The parents of a Shelton High School senior who was killed in a car crash in February are upset they will not be receiving an honorary diploma at the school’s graduation this year.

The family isn’t pleased with the decision.

Edmund Conklin, 17, died in a rollover crash on Bridgeport Avenue earlier this year. He was the starting center for the school’s basketball team and a lover of video games.

His parents, Barbara and Ed Conklin, said they’ve been trying to accomplish this task for more than two months but haven’t been able to come to an agreement with the Board of Ed, which ultimately decides whether the diploma is awarded at the ceremony.

Barbara Conklin said she spoke with Mayor Mark Lauretti, who said he didn’t see an issue with awarding the family an honorary diploma at graduation. Conklin also said she has gone to local radio stations raising awareness of the situation, and several petitions in support of the family’s wishes are gaining support from people across the country each day. As of Tuesday afternoon, an online petition had 3,891 supporters.

“The public is saying no matter what reason they have for not wanting to award the diploma at graduation, the family needs closure and it’s not going to hurt anyone by giving it to them,” said Conklin. “That’s the message we hope the board hears. We’re hoping they have a heart and see that it isn’t such a bad thing to do.”

Shelton Superintendent of Schools Dr. Chris Clouet said the district has been working with the family since the accident occurred and has decided to award the family an honorary diploma at the annual Senior Awards Ceremony.

“The district has worked with the Conklin family since the fatal car accident that took their son in February. We have met with the parents, spoken by phone with them, and met with their representative. We supported them on setting up a scholarship fund in their son's name, setting up a basketball tournament fund-raiser in our gym, and discussing a variety of options regarding honoring the memory of Ed. Options ranging from a certificate of achievement to a high school diploma were discussed.”

Clouet continued, “On May 11, our attorney sent the Conklin family’s attorney an offer to give the family an honorary diploma in Edmund’s name at our prestigious Senior Awards night. We have not heard back from him. We do not have a tradition of giving honorary diplomas. We are, however, willing to honor Ed as well as Kristjan Ndoj, a student who was killed in his sophomore year, at the Senior Awards ceremony.”

He added that there will be a moment of silence for both Ed Conklin and Kristjan Ndoj at the High School Graduation ceremony.

Chairman of the Board of Education Mark Holden said many other schools do not award posthumous diplomas at graduation and the board is sticking with its decision to do so at the Senior Award Ceremony on June 2.

“It has nothing to do with Eddy personally,” said Holden. “It’s about how we felt it was appropriate to handle it. If there was a way to make this work we would’ve found it.”

Holden added that the Senior Awards ceremony will allow more people to attend in comparison with the graduation, which permits students a limited number of tickets for guests.

“At the awards night we’ll have room for anyone and everyone who wants to be there to see the presentation. We’re not just going to call his name, we’re going to talk about his tragic death and we’re going to say nice things about him. We frankly think this should be more attractive than what they initially asked for.”

Clouet said the death of any student can lead to a tricky situation for the Board of Ed.

“It is a family tragedy and we respect that. Beyond that, for us to establish a precedent for handing out honorary diplomas at graduation, that’s not something you do off the cuff.”

“We said we are willing to give an honorary diploma, which we’ve never done before,” said Clouet. “The issue of whether or not to give out honorary diplomas out at graduation is about more than one student; it’s about establishing a precedent that will remain for years to come.”

Clouet said the Board of Ed is not made up of “heartless people” and is in the process of developing a policy that would address if and when a student is eligible for a posthumous award or diploma.

“We intend to treat this matter in the dignified way it deserves to be handled. We are all saddened by the untimely deaths of Ed Conklin and Kristjan Ndoj,” said Clouet.