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Former USC receiver has bittersweet graduation day after brother's suicide

Sometime soon, maybe today or almost certainly by next week when he returns home to bury his brother, it will hit Moe Brown.

The pain, grief and unanswered questions will pile up, and the smile that was the trademark of the South Carolina receiver throughout his Gamecocks career will fade.

But for one day, Brown did his best to keep his emotions in check.

A day after his 19-year-old brother committed suicide in a state prison in Bishopville, Brown received his degree Friday during the first of USC's three commencement exercises this weekend.

Brown said he hoped the graduation and the cookout that followed at his off-campus apartment would be a brief respite for his mom and other family members, at least 15 of whom attended Friday's ceremony at Colonial Life Arena.

"This is happy times among the sad times," Brown said. "Hopefully, it'll smooth things out, at least keep our minds off of it for a while."

Brown learned of his brother's death on Thursday in a phone call from his mother.

Xavier Brown, two months after being moved to Lee Correctional Institution, was found hanging by a bed sheet in his cell Thursday morning, a S.C. Dept. of Corrections spokesman said.

Brown was nearly a year into a 15-year sentence for multiple counts of assault and battery with intent to kill, armed robbery and kidnapping, which stemmed from an armed robbery of a fast-food restaurant in his Anderson hometown last May.

The Dept. of Corrections and SLED are investigating Brown's death, ruled a suicide by the Lee County coroner's office.

Moe Brown said he was closer to Xavier than any of his six siblings because of their closeness in age. But Brown never considered skipping Friday's graduation, saying his brother would not have wanted him to.

"My family needs this, as well as I," he said. "My brother, he would be right here smiling, too. I know he's smiling now."

Brown, who graduated with a 3.2 GPA in a double major of finance and marketing, smiled for most of the 90-minute ceremony. As he arrived at the arena and searched for his seat, he posed for a picture with Cliff Hardin, a Sumter native who received his Ph.D. in pharmacy.

Brown also took a couple of calls on his garnet-colored cell phone, which started buzzing Thursday night as former teammates and friends heard about his brother.

As Brown walked across the riser after his name was announced, USC president Harris Pastides shook his hand and offered his condolences. About a dozen rows up in the stands, Raymond Harrison, USC's director of academic services, cheered for a team captain who was best known for his infectious personality and charitable works off the field.

"He's a fantastic person. He's just a great guy. I think everyone knows that," Harrison said. "I think it's a good time for him to have his family with him."

After the ceremony, Brown walked through the stands and hugged his mother and several family members. On the eve of Mother's Day weekend, Joye Brown had to begin planning funeral arrangements for one of her five sons.

"You've just got to take it step by step," Moe Brown said. "I don't know what the formula or the proper procedure is. ... I'm just trying to be strong for my family, and for my mom more than anything. That's basically all you can do."

Brown, who this week was named to a national football honor society that recognizes players who maintained a 3.2 GPA or higher, is hoping for a chance to play in the NFL. He has talked to the Buffalo Bills and Minnesota Vikings about a possible tryout but said he plans to apply to USC's MBA program if the NFL does not work out.

But those concerns will take a back seat this week while Brown remembers and honors his brother, who followed in Moe's footsteps as a standout player at Westside High in Anderson.

"I probably roughed him up a little bit more than anybody else," Brown said. "But I wanted to protect him at the same time."

Brown said Friday that Xavier's death had not yet sunk in, calling the events of the past two days "surreal." But when that pain sets in, Brown will seek comfort in his mother's arms.

"One of the best things to do in sorrow or grief is to have family and be around people you love."