As Tekeya Mayfield walked onto the stage to accept her slain brother's high school diploma, she paused briefly, wiping her eyes as the crowd inside the building rose to their feet in a growing cheer. She stepped forward, embracing Edmondson-Westside High School's principal for a long moment before taking Michael Mayfield's diploma and thrusting it toward the sky. School administrators burst into tears.
Later, she said she felt her brother "definitely was there with me" in the bittersweet ceremony at Coppin State University's Physical Education Complex on Saturday morning.
"We used to talk about this day a lot and how he was looking forward to this day," said Tekeya Mayfield, who was also her brother's legal guardian and raised him since he was an infant. "We're really going through something, but you know, his strength and his wisdom will lead us along. We'll be OK."
On April 16, just weeks before he was set to graduate from Edmondson-Westside High School, Michael Mayfield, 17, was found shot in the head inside a van near Leakin Park. His murder remains unsolved, and police have not disclosed any potential motive.
Mayfield had been accepted into the private Chowan University in North Carolina, and also considered joining the military after graduation. He was active in myriad activities: the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps, playing baritone horn in the band, pitching for the baseball team, and serving as a youth ambassador and peer mediator.
His death, and the separate murder of another Edmondson-Westside High student in January, clouded the otherwise happy celebration. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake spoke to the graduates and acknowledged Mayfield's family in the audience.
"I had a chance to meet Michael just a few months before he passed, and he was a treasure," Rawlings-Blake said. "A treasure you should continue to be proud of because of the memory he leaves, and I know that each and every one of his classmates will carry with them."
Principal Karl E. Perry said Mayfield's death was a loss not just for the school but for the country. "This young man would have touched the entire nation," he said.
Perry suggested schools need to bring back organized prayer and called upon the audience to work to end violence.
"Like the mayor said, this is a wonderful city to live in, we just need to stop all the violence," he said. "It starts with you, and spread it out to all your family and guests here. Family and guests, spread it out here to your neighborhoods in Baltimore City, the county and the state of Maryland. We need to stop the violence."
Perry also announced a new $1,000 annual college scholarship in Mayfield's name for students who demonstrate leadership, awarded this year to Emmanuel Grogan, who plans to attend Tuskegee University. Perry said officials have also created an anti-violence initiative called the Michael Mayfield Project.
Janet Lattie, the school's assistant principal, said they plan to plant tulip trees on the grounds in September to honor Mayfield and Dejuan Willis, 17, a student who was stabbed to death in Southwest Baltimore in January. Willis, who was a junior, will likely get a similar posthumous diploma when his class graduates next year, she said.
"I'm hoping to send a message to the entire community that you have to love one another, to watch over each other," Lattie said.