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Bittersweet achievement: Mother of slain RRC student accepts diploma on his behalf

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Digital Media Design student Kenton Nickel adjusts his cap before a RRC convocation at the Centennial Concert Hall Wednesday.

JASON HALSTEAD / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Digital Media Design student Kenton Nickel adjusts his cap before a RRC convocation at the Centennial Concert Hall Wednesday. Photo Store

While 2,175 students graduated from Red River College this spring, many of them didn't attend their convocation ceremonies Wednesday.

Most of the MIA grads have earned jobs in their respective fields of study and couldn't skip out on work to don a cap and gown.

A whopping 96 per cent of RRC grads find employment within six months of graduating, said the college's communications officer, Conor Lloyd.

The family of one grad from RRC's Stevenson Campus, Rustom Vito Paclipan, already accepted his diploma for him posthumously.

Paclipan, 23, died from gunshot wounds he suffered outside Opera Ultralounge on May 4. Two other men were shot that same night, but both survived their injuries.

Police said the instance was not a random act of violence and that the gunmen and the victims were members of rival gangs.

Two Winnipeg men were arrested and charged in connection with Paclipan's death.

The incident, which happened about 2 a.m. on a Sunday outside the Main Street club, spurred an internal investigation by police trying to determine why 911 calls made earlier that night by Opera staff to police weren't followed up on by the cops before they were cancelled.

Paclipan died 21/2 weeks before he was supposed to graduate from Red River College, but he had already earned enough credit hours to receive his diploma.

One of only eight students who graduated from the Aircraft Maintenance Engineer program this spring, Paclipan improved incredibly in both his academics and attitude during his 17-month stay at Red River, said instructor Leon Woychuk.

Since most of Paclipan's class would be out of town during RRC's official convocation ceremonies, already busy pursuing new job opportunities, the small graduating group held their own mini-convocation ceremony May 22 to honour their achievements and their slain classmate.

Two of Paclipan's former classmates, Robert McDonald and Ben Martens, remembered how the news of Paclipan's death rattled the tight-knit group.

"It was like losing a family member; it was a real shock to everybody. I'm not sure it's 100 per cent sunk-in even now," said McDonald.

"He was just getting ready to launch into life."

Martens remembered Paclipan constantly being on Skype with his mom and other family members, most of whom live in British Columbia.

"He was really funny and had a really loud, contagious laugh that you could hear anywhere in the building," said Martens.

Before their mini-convocation, Paclipan's classmates asked Woychuk if Red River might consider re-registering one of its aircrafts in Paclipan's name.

The school was happy to oblige, renaming one of their planes CF-RVP; CF is a badge of honour bestowed on historical aircrafts, said Woychuk, and RVP were Paclipan's initials.

Paclipan's mother was at the ceremony to accept a copy of her son's final transcript and to witness the unveiling of the CF-RVP plane, which features an image of Paclipan's likeness.

She was very emotional throughout the ceremony and understandably so, said Woychuk. Paclipan's mother has since flown back to the Philippines to scatter her son's ashes.

"It was a bit of a different ceremony because of the circumstances. Usually graduation is a very happy moment, and there was quite a bit of happiness there, but when we spoke about Rustom, that brought a tear to everyone's eye," said Woychuk.

"This was a terrible loss and I feel really bad for his family," he added.

"He was a young man in his prime, getting set to have a bright future in front of him."

jessica.botelho-urbanski@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 5, 2014 B1

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