You bear two categories of pain when losing a student. First, there is your own personal pain at the loss of someone so young and full of potential... a child, just yesterday; you believed had their whole beautiful life ahead of them. The second pain comes from seeing his classmates, friends, teammates, and family members left behind. How do you comfort a school full of heartbroken teenagers after such a tragic and untimely loss? It was only by the grace and goodness of God that I managed to find hope and comfort in any of it. The light of hope and comfort is easily dimmed in the shadow of such a loss. There are moments you doubt whether God can really bring glory out of it. And yet, miraculously He does.
As we approach the Class of 2016's Graduation -- the class with whom he would have been graduating with -- I would like to take a moment to remember a student who changed my life: Jordan Thomas Skyler Powell. He is still deeply missed by many.
Immediately, a young man’s hand shot up. He declared, “I’m here! But I go by Skyler. Skyler with an ‘E’!” His excitement and lively energy immediately brought a smile and laugh to my face and helped me relax. This is my first memory of this talented and passionate athlete, and I cherish it because that day Skyler pointed me on a path to becoming a better teacher.
My second, and most beloved, memory of Skyler is on what – at the time none of us knew – would be his last day in my class. We were discussing early American writers and how their struggles and goals can be reflected in our own lives. Skyler said two unforgettable things. He began by loudly announcing, “My goal is to one day go streaking at the World Cup!” The classroom burst into warm, hysterical laughter. “And why would you want to do that, Skyler?” He responded, “The thing is, you have to give people something to remember you by because you only have one life. Streaking at the World Cup—everybody will talk about that for centuries!” I smiled and remember his next words as though they were spoken in my ear only yesterday. “You see, Miss Manning,” he continued, “People in life are sometimes going to tell you can’t do stuff. They’re going to say you’re not good enough, strong enough, or in the right place to get whatever it is you want. Most people would say all those things about me playing football. But we need to chase our dreams no matter what other people say. It’s only impossible if you never try and do it.” I was shocked at the intensity and determination behind his words.
This seventeen-year-old young man had a better grasp on life and our place in it than many people twice his age. I, of course, had no idea how much more those words would mean to me in the coming days… and now a year since his passing.
Skyler Powell is fixed in my heart and memory not only because he made me a better teacher, but also because with an uncomplicated outlook on life – Skyler made me a better person. Skyler’s lesson to live for today and fight for your dreams will remain with me—and I hope with you too—until it’s our time… and I hope I leave as enduring a legacy as he has.
Skyler's mother started the "Take Ten Campaign". In Skyler's honor the campaign reminds people to slow down, drive carefully and "Take Ten". Students in at the school made pledges to do simple things, such as, not text while driving, slow down, leave early, wear a seatbelt, etc. It has been truly moving to see this community come together and bring a positive change after such a devastating loss.