Letter from Michael’s 5th Grade Teacher
9 – 24 – 04
Dear Terrie, Paul and Marc
It is with great sadness that I write you this letter about your beautiful son. Yet, a certain calmness fills me when I think of Michael’s bright smile, his big brown eyes, and all the joy that was him.
When I first met Michael, he was a student in Nancy Riley’s class. I got to know him because he and Peter were always Nancy’s “messengers.” Therefore, they were in my room numerous times throughout the week. I saw then a responsible, courteous boy who always displayed a great deal of wit, warmth, and friendliness. Even at that young age, he was slated as a role model, yet remained humble with this big responsibility.
My next profound memory of Michael was a few months later when Peter’s mom passed away. I was, and still am, amazed at the compassion and friendship he showed Peter during this time. I remember that Peter was never seen without Michael by his side. It was as if Michael somehow knew the importance of being a true friend during a difficult time. He was very protective of Peter and his feelings, and I know that he provided a great deal of comfort and support to him. Over the years, it was beautiful to see their friendship grow and develop. The bond they shared was evident and I know that Peter will always be grateful to him.
What a beautiful tribute to you Terrie and Paul for raising such a fine young man.
Although I was worried about being a fifth-grade teacher I thank God for giving me the opportunity to work with Michael and truly get to know his sparkling personality. Michael was so respectful and was a model student. I remember how he always put others first and he was always surrounded by many friends. Michael also loved to laugh and have fun and I often admired how he could hold the attention of his peers.
One of the memories of Michael that I hold so dear was a time when I asked the children to write an essay about their “wishes”. I remember the day so clearly because it left a strong impact on me. As the children began to write, I noticed Michael struggling. I thought perhaps that he had writers block and I called him over to work with me. I tried brainstorming a few ideas with him, but I couldn’t seem to pull any information out of him. Finally, I asked him, “Michael, what would you wish for if your mom and dad said you can have anything you wanted?” I still hear his answer as if it happened yesterday. His exact words were, “I already have everything. My parents are great. My brother is great. My grandparents are great. I have great friends and (this is the best) I have an amazing kitchen.” How beautiful to hear a 10-year-old say he had everything he wanted. How wise it is to know what’s really important, at an age where most children want so much.
I also recall Michael as being a true – blue friend. He always stood by his friends and would do anything for them. He always spoke the truth, even if it risked getting him in a bit of trouble or went against popular opinion. He was a leader in every sense of the word, people listened to him, looked up to him, valued his opinions, and respected him.
My most precious memory of your beautiful son has to do with the essay writing activity that he was unable to complete. Whenever I said, “how are you today, Michael?”. He would answer, “You know – great! I have the greatest life!” Then he would break out in that terrific Michael smile, and we would both share a laugh.
The last time I saw Michael was an ordinary school day. I had back door walker dismissal duty. As I was walking outside, I bumped right into Michael, Kenny, Bobby, and Peter. They told me that they were just coming in to say “Hello” to me. They all looked so happy and full of life, all anxious to talk at once. Michael told me how happy he was to be on the lacrosse team, and I pulled him aside to let him know how brave I thought you were with Marc. I also let him know that I was there for him if he needed to talk. He thanked me and told me he’d visit again in September. And now, I’m left with one last, perfect memory of Michael. As he turned and walked away, he tossed his lacrosse stick over his shoulder, smiled at me, and called out “Hey Mrs. Cervantes, I STILL have the greatest life!”
It was a privilege and honor to know Michael. He taught us all so much about how to live in such a short period of time. He was proud, honorable, and brave on a daily basis. It is my hope that this letter brings you some comfort knowing that your son was so happy. He believed he had everything that mattered, and he did. Questions swirl through me in an endless pursuit to find meaning to this tragedy. I wish I had some answers or words of wisdom to share with you, yet I come up empty in that area. So instead, I choose to remind myself, each day, the last words Michael said to me – “Mrs. Cervantes, I have the greatest life!”
May you find strength in what remains behind.