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Remembering Katie

Father collects degree for his late daughter

Story Series
News Feature

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As he prepared to cross the Bridgewater State University commencement stage, Thomas Brannelly clutched to his heart a photo of his daughter Katie.

Her life, filled with so much promise, was cut short at the age of 24, before she could use her Bridgewater education to make the world a better place. On Saturday, the university where she found a home awarded her degree posthumously.

“We’ve had such bad days, to have a day like this Saturday was overwhelming,” Brannelly said. “It’s just beyond words what Bridgewater did for us.”

Katie studied psychology and wanted to help troubled youth. But, in 2012, just weeks before she was set to graduate college, she was struck by a vehicle while crossing the street in her hometown of Norwood. The driver, according to news reports, was texting before the crash.

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“We got the phone call and your life changed forever,” Brannelly recalled.

Katie spent more than a year in rehabilitation, making progress with her family and boyfriend by her side until she unexpectedly passed away in June 2013.

Her father became an advocate for measures to prevent distracted driving, including legislation the state House of Representatives recently passed banning drivers from using handheld cellphones and electronic devices.

He saw schools award posthumous degrees to victims of the Boston Marathon bombings and thought, one day, it would be nice for BSU to do the same for Katie.

Almost six years after her death, between frequent visits to her grave just down the street from his home, Brannelly reached out to BSU. University officials, he learned, were honored to recognize his daughter.

“We’re so pleased that we could offer this posthumous degree to recognize what all of us already know, and that is Katie will forever be a Bear,” said Denine Rocco, associate vice president and dean of students

And, on Saturday afternoon, the Class of 2019 rose to the occasion, offering a roaring ovation as Brannelly crossed the stage. He embraced President Frederick W. Clark Jr., '83, turned to the graduates and, with diploma and photo in hand, gave a thumbs up.

“I’d like them to get involved in something, to have a passion for something and to give back,” he said of a class that gave him so much. “What they did for Katie and the cheers to me is unforgettable.”

Brannelly and his wife, Valerie, urge the class to never drive distracted and to carry on Katie’s torch.

He added: “Out of bad comes some good, and I really believe that.”

Do you have a BSU story you'd like to share? Email stories@bridgew.edu.

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