Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Tornado victim should be able to leave Joplin High School with his classmates

One folding chair was empty that day in May of 1997 as proud parents, friends, and community members shoehorned themselves into the Tabler Gymnasium in Jasper.

Having covered five or six graduations per year for nearly 20 years, the details of that day are no longer clear in my memory. I don't remember who the valedictorian and salutatorian were or what angle I used when I wrote my article on the ceremony.

The only thing I remember about the ceremony was the graduate who wasn't there.

Her name was Jessica Jo Lynn. Jessica was nine years old and a fourth grader at Jasper when she was killed in a house fire. I covered that story for the Lamar Democrat. Eight years later, I was working for a different newspaper and the name of Jessica Jo Lynn hadn't crossed my thoughts in years.

I had forgotten her...but her classmates never did.

Her name was mentioned in one of the speeches and I noticed a few tears among her classmates, who had continued their path to adulthood while Jessica's ended in fourth grade.

Children never forget their friends and including them in the important events of their life, like their high school graduation, is a wonderful way to keep them in their memories. It is also a way to let the families of those who left too early know that their loved one has not been forgotten.

Sometimes it is done through a mention by one of the speakers, I have attended graduations where seats, sometimes holding a cap and gown, are reserved for the former classmate.

This year will be the year that Zach Williams would have graduated from Joplin High School. His school days ended when he was only 12 years, 11 months, and three days old, less than a month from becoming a teenager, when he was killed May 22, 2011, in the Joplin Tornado.

I never knew Zach. He would have been one of my students in the 2011-2012 school year. I had seen him in the hallways, but I had never had a conversation with him. I learned quite a bit about him during the following year, as students brought his name up from time to time.

One eighth grade girl who talked to me felt his loss deeply. "The last time we talked; we got into an argument. It was over something silly. I don't even remember what it was then I heard he was missing after the tornado. I wish I could talk to him one more time. It was the last thing I said to him and it was something mean. And he was my friend. I wish he knew how I really felt."

I learned yesterday that there may be an obstacle to allowing the Joplin High School Class of 2016 to include Zach Williams in its graduation ceremony.I received a message from his mother Monday saying that she had been told that Zach would not be honored in any way at the ceremony because other students and teachers had died that day.

I certainly hope there was some misunderstanding, but thankfully, there is time to make sure that Zach is remembered in some way at what would have been his high school graduation. Whether that is done by school officials, parents and district patrons, or by those who knew Zach at East Middle School, does not matter, but Joplin High School is not too big that it cannot take the time to remember those who could not be there.

His classmates should be able to show Joplin that while the years pass and memories fade, Zach Williams, forever 12, will remain a member of the Joplin High School Class of 2016.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

This year's ENHS class have two people that should be honored at the graduation ceremony. Last year on 11-13-14 junior classmate, Kaite Heilig was medflighted to KC with internal bleeding and passed upon arrival. This same class endured a life changing event while in the 4th grade, the murder of classmate Rowan Ford. Both of these deaths are always brought up at any mention of this class. The class members refer to themselves as #2016strong. I hope that the school will recognize each of these young ladies during the ceremony.

Anonymous said...

I can see why the parents of Zack would want him to be honored at the ceremony but like everybody else is saying there was others that lost their lives also so why shouldn't they be remembered. I see that there are lots of people that would be honored during this graduating class but its not fair for one to be honored and not the others and I see the High School point on this. What makes one student's life more honorable than the others.

Vickie said...

I am the mother of Jessica Jo Lynn, and I think that if Joplin High Schools are too big to honor this child, we need to find our hearts and souls again. Theses kids grew up and became friends with the ones lucky enough to make it to their graduations. What little bit of time it takes to honor him (or any child) should be spent doing just that! My child, just like Zack will never have a graduation so it helps the ones left here on earth to remember the ones that are waiting for us on the other side.

Anonymous said...

^ in response to your what makes one students life more honorable than the others... Will Norton was honored at graduation and now has several things named after him. There is nothing wrong in honoring a memory. Leave a chair open with his name on it. That's all the senior class is asking!

Anonymous said...

This is so heart breaking yes we lost many life's that day. They would won't us to honor this young man. Leave a chair open with his name on it . Show the world you still care to Remember that this child was many who was taken from us I am a survivor of that terrible day.

Anonymous said...

This is also in request by his classmates, not his parents. We had a classmate who died the year we were to graduate from Joplin, and we honored her memory by a moment of silence and her picture on the screen. They can do it again for this child.

Dusty Roads said...

If your family has some money Joplin will honor the hell out of you, if you are less fortunate...forget it

kim stjohn said...

The class wants him honored. I am sure the parents were told about and then probably told it wouldnt be done. Its about the class honoring their classmate that wont be there.

kim stjohn said...

It's not the parents that requested this it's the boys classmates. I'm sure the parents were told about it and then told that it couldn't be done. If the classmates want to show respect for the classmate then it should be allowed

Anonymous said...

I completely agree that he should be honored. If that isn't acceptable, then why is the City of Joplin & probably the school district still planning a nearly week long celebration of the 5 year anniversary of that horrible day?

Anonymous said...

Zack and his family were our neighbors and the least the school can do is set up one lousy folding chair for the child, and others who may have graduated this year. Seems to make a lot of sense people as their are holes in this graduating class and this instance to recognize them in some small way.

D White said...

How is asking for a child to be remembered at graduation excluding anyone else? Instead of the school replying with the fact that they can't honor this child because others were lost, why aren't they saying, "Absolutely. We will add Zach to our list of those who will have a place of honor in the ceremony" ?

Lowry Family said...

Is it really so hard to place an empty chair or something similar for each student that has ppl who wish to memorialize them? I get not wanting to do one when there are several, yet how big of a cost is there to have a few extra chairs?

Anonymous said...

if this didn't mean a lot to Zach's friends they wouldn't be requesting it.

Unknown said...

He needs to be honored for being in that class. There were other lives lost that day but this was the class this boy would have walked with. For each student gone to soon should be recognized with his or her class.
Honor this boy Joplin High School or shame on you.

Billie Clark said...

As Zachary's aunt seeing him honored at what would be his HS Graduation would be an honor. I feel if the school has done so in the past, then the tradition of continuing could not hurt. Kids are very impressionable & will learn from us as adults, teachers, bus drivers & friends that if we stand up for what we believe in & show respect to one another then we will have great leaders in our country someday. Zach attended both of our children's weddings with a special setting for him & i assure you he would be smiling down from heaven above if he was allowed a seat at his 2016 graduation day!

Anonymous said...

Oops, there

scott windsor said...

I completely agree. He should be remembered...this was his graduating class. And if the school doesn't "officially remember him" then I hope one of the graduates has the determination to stand up on the spot and do it.

Chanel Thurston said...

I completely agree this child should be honored right along with the rest of his class. He lost his life due to a horrible act of mother nature. We as adults should be grateful that we our raising our children to be strong caring adults! Joplin high school if u can honestly deni these class mates the to honor there lost classmates than your high school is not a high school I want my children to attend! My son is 14 an a 8th grade student at east middle school who is so excited about going to the new high school next year but me telling him this on this beautiful morning broke my heart because my son said mom why wouldn't they honor this boy what happened to hope high school in Joplin no? Please tell me what I should say as a mother to that! Our school district was blessed with a huge high school to replace the one lost on May 22 2011 but the lives that were lost that day are irreplaceable. So I pry that you people find it in your heart to put an empty seat in that auditorium with zacks name on it an let his fellow classmates honor him on one of the most precious an meaniful days of these young adults our future lives ! If you don't shame on u an may god be with you!

Anonymous said...

I agree that you should put a chair up for Zach! The high school says that there's more that died in the tornado and it wouldn't be right, then fix it. Don't say you can't..you can put chairs up for the rest of the people who should be walking down that aisle also! Joplin has enough money and time for that! It wouldn't be a waste of time or money! My sister had a friend who was like a sister to her who died in a car accident the summer before she was supposed to graduate and they left a seat open, her gown on the chair and her picture on the slide show along with everyone else! Do as the kids ask of you!

Anonymous said...

I heard this morning on the radio that the school was going to do something but it has not been planned yet. How far do should they go with it? Should the school do something for Skyular Logsdon the 15month old that would have gone to Joplin and graduated in 2027? I am sympathetic but where do you draw the line?

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure where the idea came from that NO honoring would be done. I have been to many graduations at JHS, and they have always recognized lost students and staff members in a very touching way. The pictures of the students are on the big screen, their names are called, there is a moment of silence in their honor, and their names are on the program. Same for staff that are lost. I know this because it was done for my nephew, and the same principal and staff are there now that were there when we lost him. They could not have been kinder to us through our loss. We also received tickets so as to see his classmates graduate. An empty chair is not the only way to acknowledge those who are lost.

If this is the only way to make a grieving mother happy, then perhaps it should be considered, but what they did for our family was quite touching. I'm sure the same will be done for the children and staff this year. I find the thought of an empty chair to be overwhelmingly sad, but I suppose it's a matter of personal perspective. Let's not condemn the staff without all the facts.

Anonymous said...

First, honoring Zach doesn't have to be an empty chair, and it doesn't have to be a singular honor. Why not honor all lost in the tornado with an honor wall, and honor all lost, with something special about Zach, since he was a student at that school. Why make it a negative thing? Honor those lost with pictures/memories, but with joy of brining families and the community together, as one, to rebuild and become stronger.
Now, to address the person asking when to draw the line in honoring those lost: I think you honor those lost to help his friends find closure, so you draw the line where his friends, student peers, and faculty/staff want it drawn. This is their request. Obviously they're not ready to draw that line yet. Let them seek this closure. As far as the 15 month old child, yes, it was sad. However, this child did not attend Joplin schools, did not have friends there, and did make memories there yet. That's the difference in my eyes.
And finally to mention the two girls from ENHS. It was difficult to lose Rowan. I watched those students, too young to deal with that kind of reality, forced to face it. Losing Katie was difficult too. I KNOW many students still remember them and think of the often. I hear them talk of those two girls frequently. I'm sure they will both be honored during their graduation. There is a wonderful senior class that is still missing these two girls and will carry their memories forever.

crazymom2 said...

As a parent who has lost a child I understand both sides.... But where DO you draw the line? The child who died in a car accident or suicide or whatever the case should also be "honored" at graduation. If you open the door for that, every child who has passed on before graduation should be honored, every year.

Anonymous said...

Can I "Like" Scott Windsors comment ?