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Tampa, Florida -- Riverview High students are mourning the recent passing of a beloved teacher known for his passion for teaching, his love of theater and his students.

When 38-year-old Daron Hawkins stepped on to the stage, he stepped into his classroom. He had been Riverview High School's theater director since the school opened in 1998. The stage is where students say he created magic and changed lives.

Students placed Hawkins' chair, his towel, a copy of this year's musical he hoped to work on, and the Tums they say never left his side as reminders of the teacher they miss.

"He made everyone feel important no matter who you were," says 12th grader Danna Rush.

Eleventh grader Deion Ford says, "This wasn't just a theater class, it was a life lesson -- everyday life lessons."

Hawkins died on Wednesday of pneumonia. He had been sick before, including last year during the opening of his last play Oklahoma, but he always returned to work a resilience he passes on.

Principal Bob Heilman knew Hawkins since he was 14 years old and hired him as theater director soon after he graduated from USF.

"He knew drama, he knew costumes, he knew dance, technology -- he knew it all and he was blessed to have a dad that could help with the construction side," he says.

Actors and non-actors alike, Hawkins had the same goal with each student.

"He taught me confidence is key. If you project confidence everyone will believe you have confidence then you will gain that confidence," Ford says.

And for aspiring actors he did more than hand them a script.

"He would go in-depth into character development and song interpretation, acting out the song. It was eye opening," says 12th grader Corey Farrell.

Hawkins directed his students on stage and in life.Riverview High School will hold a tribute for Hawkins on Nov. 23 at 7 p.m. at Riverview High School's auditorium.

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