Father Accepts Diploma for Son in Tears, Days After Teen’s Passing

By Eva Fu

Rousseau Fleurival could hardly withhold his tears on May 28 as he walked across the podium with a standing ovation, one hand reaching out with the other holding a blue gown.

The sheer fabric and the diploma that Fleurival was about to receive would become the last memories of his son, 18-year-old Ridhwani, a proud graduating senior at Riverview High School in Florida, who died unexpectedly last week—days before his graduation ceremony.

“When I saw that, my heart [went] off. I think my son really would have liked that,” Fleurival told KSTU.

Fleurival wanted to take the diploma back for his son.

“He worked really hard, and it’s very sad that in the last moments, a couple of days before he walked that stage, and he passed away,” Fleurival said.

His brows furrowed as he hugged Ridhwani’s teacher tight for more than ten seconds, his trembling lips forced apart by something heavy from his lungs.

“I didn’t think I was going to be able to walk to that podium, but I asked the almighty God to give me strength,” he said.

Thousands of students and parents stood up and clapped their hands as the grieving father walked on. Then, they paused for a moment of silence.

“We’ll stand together as a family, going to weather this storm, going to get through it,” Peterson Mercegard, Ridhwani’s cousin, told KSTU.

Ridhwani was ready to further his studies to become a physician after finishing high school. His family describes him as a passionate fan of football and technology. The abrupt death of Ridhwani—the cause of which still unknown—was a heavy blow to all who were close to him.

Ridhwani Fleurival
Ridhwani Fluerival. (GoFundMe)

“My son was my force, he was everything for me,” Fleurival said. “He was a hero.”

Ridhwani’s family set up a GoFundMe page to raise funds for his funeral. The campaign had gathered a total of $1,800 toward its $6,000 goal at the time of this publication. Many who were among the audience during the graduation ceremony poured words of condolences after contributing to the cause.

“As a student finally reaching a milestone … I wanted to give a part of myself for the family that should have watched [their] child walk across the stage at graduation,” Zachary Benson, who also graduated from Riverview High School, wrote after donating to the page.

“As we watched you walk across the stage today to accept your son’s diploma, my heart broke for you,” Melinda Marin wrote.

“I knew you since you [were] small and I knew you were going to become a football player when you get older but unfortunately God had better plans for you. We will miss you very much and we will keep you in our hearts,” John Louis wrote.

The family said that they are grateful for all the support from the community. They said that they will stand strong and keep the memories alive while grappling with the loss.

“He will always be remembered. His name will always live with us,” Peterson said.