Wake County

School will recognize student during graduation who died in wreck

Remembering Lauren and Nick Jenkins in the aftermath of their deaths

Allison Garrell and Kristina Harms, mother of Lauren and Nick Jenkins, talk about the garden Nick made for Lauren and how they want to remember them.
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Allison Garrell and Kristina Harms, mother of Lauren and Nick Jenkins, talk about the garden Nick made for Lauren and how they want to remember them.

A student who died after a car accident in March will be recognized during Leesville Road High School’s graduation ceremony June 11 after all.

Lauren Jenkins, 17, was a senior at Leesville Road. She was driving near her family’s North Raleigh home March 17 when she struck another car and left the scene. Her body was found in the woods two days later.

Jenkins’ mother, Kristina Harms, said she asked the school’s administrators to recognize her daughter in some way during the school’s graduation ceremony. She said she was told it wouldn’t be allowed.

But Harms said Leesville Road High’s principal, Anthony Muttillo, told her Wednesday afternoon that her daughter will be included in the ceremony’s printed program and will also be recognized.

More than 2,300 people have signed an online petition on change.org urging the school to acknowledge Jenkins. Harms said her daughter attended Leesville Road elementary, middle and high schools.

The Wake County school system does not have a policy about recognizing deceased students during graduation ceremonies, schools spokeswoman Lisa Luten said. School principals and counselors ask families whether they want a student recognized.

“What they’re trying to do is balance the needs of the parents and the students, and also respect the grieving process,” Luten said.

Schools spokesman Tim Simmons said there was a delay in communicating with Harms partly because administrators were also dealing with the family of another Leesville Road High School student who died this school year.

Harms said she saw media reports about how Enloe High School in Raleigh reversed course this month and agreed to recognize Rachel Rosoff during graduation. Rosoff, 17, was electrocuted and drowned Sept. 3, a week into her senior year, while working as a lifeguard at the Heritage Point subdivision pool.

Enloe faced backlash after local and national media reported that the school didn’t plan to mention Rosoff’s name during the ceremony. Thousands of people signed an online petition asking the school to change its decision.

Enloe now plans to place a vase on stage and include a moment of silence during the ceremony. The school also will include a statement about Rosoff in the graduation program and “notify the valedictorian that it is his option whether to make reference to Rachel during his presentation,” according to an email from school administrators to Rosoff’s family.

Harms said she wants the same kind of recognition for her daughter.

“I think it’s only fair to recognize her,” she said.

Harms said schools shouldn’t shy away from recognizing students who have died. Choosing not to ignore it can be helpful to other students, she said.

“This is going to impact them for the rest of their lives,” Harms said of her daughter’s classmates. “It’s always going to resonate with somebody at some point in their lives.”

Kristina Harms, mother of Lauren Jenkins,17, thinks the State Highway Patrol should have spent more time looking for her daughter the night of her wreck. She wants to push for a new state law that would require law enforcement agencies to continue

Sarah Nagem: 919-829-4635, @sarah_nagem