For Beaufort High School students, Friday was a day of mourning.
Principal Dan Durbin's last day was one for crying and dressing in black, for a rally before school and a performance by the school's drum line.
It was a day for chanting his name in a show of support, for protesting his resignation by sitting in the atrium until he urged them to go to class. Show your respect for me that way, he told students. Make our last day together one we can enjoy.
The students did as he asked. They began singing "Lean on Me." Many hugged Durbin, tears in his eyes and theirs, as they headed off to class.
One girl handed him her graduation tassel, and as he stood in the hall ushering students this way and that, he ran his thumb over the golden "10" of the tassel.
He started his last day the way many said he'd started most of the others in the nine years he led the high school, with an eye on his students.
'PART OF OUR FAMILY'
Durbin announced his resignation Wednesday night.
On Thursday the news that he'd changed 200 grades for 33 students over the last two years became public.
He and the Beaufort County School District agreed he should resign.
Since then, many students have been reeling.
"We have lost students to tragic accidents," said Leah Roche, a media specialist who has taught at the school for 20 years. "That's really the only other time I can remember seeing the students so upset."
Durbin's resignation, she said, feels almost like a death in the family.
"Someone is leaving, and even though he has promised he will still be at Beaufort High functions and cheering on the teams, it will be different," she said.
Sophomore Patrick Burrus said Thursday the news Durbin had changed grades came as a shock.
"I didn't believe it at first," he said. "I thought it was ridiculous. He's such a good guy. It's hard to believe he could be doing things that wrong."
Burrus said students and teachers have been emotional.
"It was a mess," he said. "Football coaches who I've seen tackle people and yell at people were tearing up. Everybody was crying. You could tell Dr. Durbin was a very respected man. ...
"He was part of our family, and we're losing him."
'WHAT HE'S ALL ABOUT'
Durbin has urged students at every turn over the last two days to keep things peaceful and calm, as close to normal as possible.
"I want to be around you," he told students early Friday. "I want to walk around this school, and we have time together. But we're wasting that time not doing what we're supposed to do."
At the rally Friday morning, he told students they shouldn't act as if the school can't go on without him.
"It can't!" someone shouted from the crowd.
Durbin paused a moment but did not respond to the shouted support.
Several parents were also at the school Friday morning, gathering signatures that called for Durbin to keep his job through the end of the school year.
Donna Pine, a parent of a senior and a sophomore at the school, said she had gathered about 300 signatures Friday morning and plans to present them to district officials.
"Obviously we'd like to keep him permanently," Pine said. "The seniors feel strongly about having him finish the school year. ... There's no reason for a mid-school-year change. That's not beneficial to students, which is what he's all about."
An online petition started Thursday has more than 270 signatures.
On Facebook, more than 700 people are following the "Reinstate Dan Durbin at BHS" page, started Thursday. Students and community members have posted their thoughts on the page, while the page's owner has encouraged people to contact school board members.
'A DIFFICULT SITUATION'
Both school board Chairman Fred Washington Jr. and member Bill Evans said Thursday they had received many calls and emails from parents and residents about Durbin's resignation. Both represent areas in Beaufort High's attendance zones.
Washington said the news has been hard to take.
"This is a very difficult situation for everyone involved," he said. "It's difficult for Dr. Durbin and for his family, for the school, for the district and for the community because he has been such a strong force in this community. There's mutual love and respect. That's what makes this difficult."
Evans said the emails he received are often several paragraphs long and very detailed, offering stories of what Durbin has done to support students. In the more than 100 interactions and conversations he said he's had with community members, every one has supported Durbin.
"A lot of people are treating it like it's a grief situation," Evans said. "They've got to get through their grieving before they move on to other things."
Evans said he considers Durbin a friend and wanted to see him finish the school year.
That wasn't what the majority of the school board decided Tuesday when the grade changes were discussed.
"It's difficult," Evans said. "I think he's an excellent educator. He's a good friend. He did a lot at that school. ... He and I have talked a lot about the plans he had to keep pushing forward and other things he wanted to do. Now it's imperative that we find someone just as dynamic."
Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.
- Storify timeline of news, updates and reactions from the community, culled from social media
- Beaufort High students protest outside school in response to principal's resignation; Feb. 24, 2012
- VIDEO: Beaufort High principal: "I was trying to motivate a kid, trying to help someone get through"; Feb. 23, 2012
- District: Beaufort High principal changed more than 200 grades; Feb. 23, 2012
- Beaufort High principal Dan Durbin to resign Friday; Feb. 22, 2012