SHELTON - Shelton High School's class of 2016 paid tribute at its graduation ceremony Friday to two classmates who died before receiving their diplomas.

Hundreds of people attended a bittersweet ceremony in what would normally have been a joyous milestone.

The families of Eddy Conklin and Kristian Ndoj had initially been told that a ceremony for their children would be held separately from the rest of the class. The school board reversed its decision after 8,000 people signed a petition asking for the students to be honored along with their peers.

The two students were represented by empty chairs, and officials called their names along with their classmates.

Conklin died in a car crash in February. Ndoj was shot and killed in his sophomore year in 2014.

Conklin's cousin, Ron Hubbard says he is happy his cousin was honored.

"Seeing him graduate was a huge honor for the whole family — to know he gets the document — especially for my aunt and uncle,” Hubbard says. “It was big for them."

The superintendent of Shelton public schools says the school board's policy committee will develop future guidelines for similar unfortunate situations.