Two years after she was fatally struck by a car while riding her bicycle, Aileen Chen was given an honorary diploma by Stuyvesant High School during Tuesday’s graduation ceremony.
The 16-year-old was a sophomore when she died. Her younger sister Shelley, who is now a freshman at Stuyvesant, prepared a short speech to thank the school community for the honor. She said she wanted to look back at the “happy memories” and reflect on how Aileen influenced her family, friends and classmates.
“I vividly remember something Aileen told me when I was in third grade. I brought home a low test grade and my mother was fairly upset, an experience most of you can relate to. I tried to defend myself by talking about how all of my other friends had even lower scores, which I’m sure at least some of you have done at one point. Aileen then told me, ‘Don’t compare yourself with others. Compare yourself with yourself. Become a better person today than you were yesterday. Each new day is a chance to improve and make progress.’
“My sister was a role model for me. With every mistake I made, she offered her insights and taught me to learn from it. I couldn’t have asked for a better sister.”
Parent leaders suggested the honorary diploma because Chen would have graduated this year. Many parents raised money for Chen’s family after her death.
“It was extremely emotional,” Peter Galafinao, co-president of the school’s Parent Association, said of the ceremony where Shelley got a standing ovation by more than 800 graduates and their families. He said her parents bowed toward the stage; they did not speak.
The parent association is donating a high-speed digital camera in Aileen’s memory to Modern Physics, an area of study she had hoped to pursue.
Stuyvesant also awarded an honorary diploma to Alice DeRivera Haines, who brought the lawsuit that forced the all-male school to admit girls in 1969. Haines, never attended Stuyvesant, though, because her family moved. She is now a doctor living in Maine.