The mood was sombre at this year's Royal Military College of Canada convocation, as the school bestowed posthumous degrees on four cadets who died tragically last month.
Jack Hogarth, Andrei Honciu, Broden Murphy and Andrés Salek died when their vehicle crashed into the water off Point Frederick in Kingston, Ont., at 2 a.m. on April 29.
The four cadets would have sat next to their classmates at Thursday's convocation, but with unanimous support of the college's senate they were given their degrees and will graduate posthumously.
Speakers at the ceremony walked a balance between celebrating the accomplishments of the graduating class while acknowledging the deep hurt felt by students and faculty alike.
"It is with mixed emotions that we conduct today's convocation ceremony," said Harry James Kowal, the college's principal.
"We are here to celebrate the successes of all of our graduates, but we're also very cognizant and deeply affected by the recent and tragic loss."
'I don't really want to graduate without them'
"We miss you all. And we will never forget your good nature, your sense of duty, humour and dedication as RMC cadets," said Commodore Josée Kurtz, head of the Royal Military College of Canada.
Some family members of the cadets attended, accepting the degrees in their stead.
The Canadian Forces National Investigation Service is supporting an investigation into the deaths by Ontario's Chief Coroner. Foul play has been ruled out, according to an update from the Office of the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal in early May.
Investigators have asked anyone with information about the incident to come forward.
For some who attended Thursday's ceremony, the loss was intensely personal.
Chris Favrin met the cadets when they were all first-year students, and they formed a tight-knit group. Favrin said what he likes about the college is that it fosters strong bonds in a short time.
"Even though we'd only spent like a year together, it felt like we had spent ages together," he said.
Favrin said their memory keeps him going, and he's not really alone because they'll always be with him. Still, mourning his best friends is difficult as he soldiers on.
"I don't really want to graduate without them. Right? It's not fair," Favrin said. "But things happen."
National Defence Minister Anita Anand, who serves as the college's chancellor, also said a few words about the cadets, describing the ceremony as a bittersweet day.
"My thoughts have been consistently with their families, with their loved ones, with you the classmates, the faculty, and the institution as a whole," she said during the ceremony. "I have been truly touched to see how this community has come together in the weeks following.
"[They were] taken from us far too soon … we will remember their dedication to serving Canada."
The four cadets were also honoured Thursday evening, during what's known as a Sunset Ceremony, an event driven by the class of 2022.
The ceremony is a long-standing tradition at the college, with its origins rooted in the experiences of soldiers in 16th-century Europe.
The evening's event was meant to help the community collectively, including family and friends, grieve and celebrate the cadets' lives, ending with fireworks at sundown. Close friends also gave speeches.
"Unfortunately, there was no time to say goodbye to our friends," said Officer Cadet Amy Byun. "But we will remember them through the joy they have brought into our lives."