WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — Hundreds of Toll Gate students donned their cap and gowns as they prepared to cross the stage and receive their diplomas.
It’s a day Tara Cirella has dreaded since her daughter, Gianna, passed away from sepsis in 2017.
Gianna, 16, was a junior at Toll Gate and a goalie on the varsity girl’s soccer team.
Her mother has worked tirelessly to honor her memory ever since the day she died, going as far as advocating that Rhode Island hospitals implement sepsis protocols. Her teammates painted a rock outside of the high school in her favorite color, purple, to remind students for years to come of the impact she had on her classmates.
“I made Gianna a promise before she passed away,” Tara Cirella said. “That I would finish this story and I would make it all matter.”
An empty seat was saved for her at graduation, adorned with a decorated graduation cap, flowers and cards. She was mentioned several times during the ceremony, with her classmates vowing to stay “Gi-Strong.”
“Gianna’s story is not going to end,” Tara Cirella said. “I refuse to let it. Gianna’s story wouldn’t end if she was here, and it won’t end now.”
Tara Cirella honored her late daughter by crossing the stage for her. The crowd erupted into a standing ovation as she received Gianna’s diploma.
“What she left me with is enough to carry this through and to see this through and finish it for her,” Tara Cirella said. “There were days I honestly didn’t think I was going to make it and I have. I’ve made it this far and even though that’s because Gianna would have it no other way, were so eternally grateful.”