Mom of GCU student killed in wrong-way crash accepts daughter's diploma

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Mom accepted her daughter's diploma Thursday at GCU Mom accepted her daughter's diploma Thursday at GCU
Karli Richardson (Source: Facebook) Karli Richardson (Source: Facebook)
Karli and Kelsey Richardson (Source: Facebook) Karli and Kelsey Richardson (Source: Facebook)
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5 and Facebook) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5 and Facebook)
(Source: Arizona Department of Publish Safety) (Source: Arizona Department of Publish Safety)

It was an extremely emotional graduation ceremony at Grand Canyon University Thursday morning.

Many people were brought to tears when the mother of two young women killed in a wrong-way crash on Interstate-17 earlier this month accepted her older daughter’s diploma.

Karli Richardson, 20, was just days away from graduating from GCU when she and her 18-year-old sister, Kelsey, were killed

The wrong-way driver, Keaton Allison, also a student at GCU, died in that crash, as well.

[RELATED: Victims named in I-17 wrong-way crash]

Cathy Hocking, the girls’ mother, came here from North Carolina to attend what should have been her older daughter’s graduation ceremony.

On Thursday, she was the first to cross the stage after the commencement speakers finished.

"Today I am here to represent Karli. She worked so incredibly hard for this. I'm excited. I'm sad."

"Karli should be here for this," she continued. "Karli should be jumping up and down and walking across that stage. And next year Kelsey should be."

[FACEBOOK: Cathy Hocking talks about accepting diploma]

Hocking said she was honored to be at the ceremony. She wore her daughter's cap and gown when she stepped up on stage to accept the diploma.

Hocking said she's also grateful to GCU for letting her walk the stage in her daughter's place.

"I was overwhelmed with pride," she said. "She worked hard for her grades. She graduated at age 20. She turned 20 on March 26, and she died 19 days later with a BA degree and I'm very proud of her."

The Richardson sisters were headed up to the Grand Canyon to watch the sun come up on Friday, April 14, but they never made it out of Phoenix.

Allison, 21, was driving the wrong way on I-17 and hit the girls’ vehicle head-on.

All three were pronounced dead at the scene.

[ORIGINAL STORY: Wrong-way driver hits, kills sisters on I-17 in Phoenix]

[PHOTOS: Wrong-way crash on I-17 in Phoenix kills 3]

Investigators are still trying to determine if impairment was a factor in the deadly crash.

Dutch Bros. Arizona hosted a fundraiser for the families of the Richardsons and Allison. The company said Allison was an employee and one of the sisters was a regular. That fundraiser brought in more than $30,000.

Hocking told us he had a very close relationship with her daughters.

"My girls and I had a very unique relationship," she said. "We talked about everything. They shared things with me. Kelsi would text me eight, nine times a day. Karli would call me three or four times a week."

It's hard to imagine the pain Hocking is enduring. But she says she is finding comfort that people are learning and being inspired by the girls' faith. "We move on because we know they're alive," she said. "Karli and Kelsey did not live once. They are living forever. They just beat their mom to it."

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