A Ceremony to Remember

Teal balloons floated off into the horizon, waving in the breeze. The peaceful scene was only broken by quiet tears, as family and friends remembered deceased students, letting their memory and a hopeful message be represented with the soaring ribbons.

On May 15 at 6 P.M. the Senior Student Government Association (SGA) hosted the annual Memorial Garden Ceremony in the memorial garden and bench area in the front of the school  to honor students who passed away before graduating in their projected year.

Part of the Memorial Garden. Photo by Melanie Langness.

Part of the Memorial Garden. Photo by Melanie Langness.

Senior SGA advisor Kimberly Drown explained that the Executive student government branch started implementing the ceremony in 2010 to honor students who had passed on prior to graduating with their senior class. Since then, the tradition has been continued, with the duty of hosting it being deferred to the senior student government officers as the Executive branch disbanded.

“We aim to give these students who have died too early a chance to be remember while giving their grieving families a chance to memorialize their children and honor their connection to the school,” Drown said.

A majority of high school deaths result from automotive accidents, medical issues, or delinquent activities. Alyssa Heider was a student in 2006, and died after sustaining massive brain trauma from a car accident involving three of her volleyball teammates while coming home from a team trip to Tucker Lake.

“I had assumed she was with a parent driver, and so when she came home, evidently that mom couldn’t drive them, and so she wound up in another player’s car, and was t-boned by another car,” Alyssa’s mother Yvette Davis said. “Her body was a complete mess, but the worst was ther brain damage. Eventually the swelling on her brain caused a lack of oxygen and that was what ultimately killed her.”

Heider was only one of 14 students honored at the ceremony. Luqman Boyd, Adam Byrd, Alissa Chenette, Thomas Davis, Ariel Hughes, Christopher Kosmos, Emily Mya, Justin Parrish, Tyler Ryals, Steven Drew Smith, Kenneth White, Chereka Williams and Taylor Woods were all memorialized.

Family members stand preparing their balloons for the release. Photo by Melanie Langness.

Family members stand preparing their balloons for the release. Photo by Melanie Langness.

The ceremony was established in conjunction with the Class of 2010’s “senior gift,” a bench bearing the names of each deceased student.

“Since the school opened and senior Student Government began to be efficient and prominent, they have worked to organize yearly senior “gifts” paid for from each graduating class’s account– in 2010 the senior class donated the memorial bench,” Drown said. “Other senior classes have also donated the Wildcat pawprints on the sidewalks, the 36 roses and greenery in the garden, and funded the maintenance and replacement of plants in the garden.”

The Memorial Bench bears a moving inscription. Photo by Melanie Langness.

The Memorial Bench bears a moving inscription. Photo by Melanie Langness.

Student government officers work to ensure that the ceremony goes off smoothly and that each family member is able to play a part and peacefully pay their respects. Since the ceremony is now an established tradition, they do not have to gain approval from administration. Once the officers choose a date, they collaborate with the choral department to organize a memorial song, send out invitations to the families of the honored students and gather the release balloons.

“We want to make sure that everyone immediately connected to a student that has passed is invited and knows we still are thinking about them,” Drown said.

The Honors Chorus took time out of their musical rehearsal schedule to perform. Photo by Melanie Langness.

The Honors Chorus took time out of their musical rehearsal schedule to perform. Photo by Melanie Langness.

Families and faculty hope that the ceremony will eventually become both a way to remember passed away students and to raise awareness of the consequences of dangerous behavior for current students.

“We just don’t want their losses to be for naught, I think we all want to know that our children meant something, even if it’s a reminder that our kids need to live and do amazing things with the lives they do have,” Davis said.

Once all the families had arrived, officer Suki Pannu gave a quick welcome speech before the Honors Chorus launched into a song of remembrance. Officers then slowly read the names of the honored students, as families released balloons one by one in their memory. A moment of silence and prayer soon followed, and Amanda Sledge closed the ceremony with a vocal rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

The balloons blew off towards the sun. Photo by Melanie Langness.

The balloons blew off towards the sun. Photo by Melanie Langness.

Attending families have given positive feedback to Drown regarding the ceremony, showing their appreciation after the moment of silence by tearfully hugging Drown and the attending student government officers.

“My greatest fear is not that somebody is gonna walk up the hallway and ask me what happened, ask me for her story, that’s not my fear. My fear is that people will forget her, and I think the memorial serves as a really precious reminder that our children aren’t forgotten, that somebody is thinking of them,” Davis said.