STARR, S.C. (WSPA) – An Upstate graduate, valedictorian of her class, was celebrated Thursday by dozens of Anderson County Sheriff Deputies who showed up for the ceremony.

Nearly 160 Crescent High School students marched for the graduation. Many of them with moms and dads smiling on the sidelines, except one student who lost her dad nearly 16 years ago.

“He won’t get to be at my college graduation. He won’t get to walk me down the aisle one day,” Karlee Burdette, daughter of late Master Deputy Alex Burdette.

Burdette’s dad, Master Deputy Alex Burdette died as he was finishing his shift and heading home back in 2005. On his way home, he stopped to help someone. He was struck as he directed traffic around the car.

Karlee graduated on her 18th birthday as the valedictorian of her class. She carried her father in spirit.

“I had to get a little bit creative to find a way to get him to be here. And so I thought I would wear his cap and gown as a way to honor him and also to have him with me on that stage,” Karlee said.

As she delivered her speech in the same place her father graduated, more than 30 of her father’s brothers and sisters looked on in uniform.

“I was actually very surprised at how many of them actually came. Some of the guys that were here, were working with Alex that night. One of the guys was the first one on scene. So I know it means a lot to me to have him here and have them all here,” said Nicole Burdette, wife of Alex Burdette.

Anderson County Sheriff Chad McBride also filled in as one of her dads.

“Because we’re a family and so they’re like extended family members to us and so we’re just proud dad moments for all of us,” McBride said. “He’s so proud, smiling down on her today. And so we’re super excited and proud for her. And she’s going to do, we just know she’s going to do big great things,” he said.

“She had a bunch of dads here today. She didn’t actually have her dad, but she had a whole bunch dad’s here today,” Nicole said. “They’ve always been there to support her and support us. It’s been 16 years, and that hasn’t changed,” she said.

Although Karlee was a baby when her father died, she still had to preserve through high school to get to this point.

“My sophomore year I had a lot of health issues, where basically my intestines stopped working and so I was in the hospital for pretty much that entire year in and out. And so there was a lot of people who thought things like that would take me out of the running for valedictorian,” Karlee said

Karlee said over the years, the sheriff’s office has been there for her, including on her biggest day.

“They have supported me through everything that I’ve wanted to do and everything that I have done,” she said.

Karlee Burdette plans to major in elementary education at Clemson University