06/09/2013 04:52 EDT | Updated 08/09/2013 05:12 EDT

Ottawa university honours students killed in Quebec crash

Graduation day is a large milestone for post-secondary students and their families, but for the Shen and Joly families, the weight of the occasion this year was tenfold.

Students Karina Joly, 20, and Ted Shen, 23, died on Sept. 20, 2012 after a crash about 45 kilometres west of Montreal.

The couple was supposed to graduate Sunday with 191 fellow students from the University of Ottawa's civil law program, but in their memory, the university awarded them law degrees posthumously.

Joly's mother, Johanne, and Shen's sister, Kelly, crossed the stage in their honour, each greeted by their own standing ovation.

"I was just thinking about (Karina)," Johanne said following the convocation. "I just wanted to be there and I really appreciate the university has done all this for them."

It has been a difficult school year for fellow students and the families, especially the Shens.

Parents moved back to Taiwan

Kelly Shen said her parents have moved back to Taiwan since her brother's death. They had come to Montreal so their children could learn English and French, but Canada now holds too many sad memories, Shen said.

Shen, who still lives in Toronto, said her return to Ottawa also weighed heavily on her mind because it was her brother's second home.

"It's so hard. Yesterday I didn't sleep but it's not because I'm sad, it's just I have so many memories of him. I can see him everywhere," she said.

Shen said Karina and Ted, both from Anjou, Que., were very happy and energetic and they did everything together, so graduating together was suiting.

Receiving Ted's degree was also a bittersweet moment, she added, knowing her brother had accomplished one of his main goals.

"Ted, I'm really proud of you," Shen said, fighting back tears. "I know (you) will be successful and be a great lawyer, and that we love (you) so much."

Shen said she would frame the degree for her brother, just as he did when she graduated from university. She will then bring it back to Taiwan in September, honouring the one-year anniversary of her brother's death.