Show class, have pride, and display character. If you do, winning takes care of itself. -Paul "Bear" Bryant
It's been a rough couple of weeks for students and teachers here in Texas. On Friday, May 12th, a teacher from Cypress Woods High School in the Houston area suburbs had taken her life. I only found out because a friend of mine has a daughter that attends the school. From what I understand, it was kept quiet at the request of the teacher's children. The students were informed, counselors provided, and life went on.
Fast forward to this past Tuesday, the 23rd. In the small town of Kirbyville, Texas (population 2129), beloved High School Principal Dennis Reeves took his own life shortly after resigning his position in a meeting with Superintendent Tommy Wallis and an assistant superintendent.
From all accounts, Reeves was well liked and well respected in the small, East Texas community, and word of his death has been taken hard. Comments on social media range from shock to dismay. Students, both former and current, tell stories of a man that cared deeply for and supported his students. Reeves wouldn't give up on them even when others, including themselves, had. Now there is a sense of loss in Kirbyville, and far too many unanswered questions.
But on Friday night, a breath of fresh air blew through Galveston county as Texas City High School honored one of their own. On November 29, 2016, eighteen year old Brandy Vela of Texas City took her own life. Her suicide was the result of months of relentless cyberbullying until Brandy could no longer take the harassment. An investigation eventually lead to the arrests of two people, but not before leaving the close knit community wounded and hurting.
As parents and relatives, including the Vela family, filled the stand, and students filed into Stingaree Stadium and took their seats on the field, one seat was conspicuously empty. It was your run of the mill classroom chair, but unlike the others on the field, this one was draped in white with a blue ribbon. It was placed there in memory of Brandy. It was not an elaborate shrine, but a simple gesture by the students, faculty, and administration of Texas City High School to honor a fallen classmate.
When I posted the article from KTRK in Houston to my Facebook page, I didn't realize how many responses I would get. Throughout the day, the post received numerous Likes and other reactions. Many congratulated the school for allowing this tribute, while far too many others lamented the fact that when they lost their child to suicide, their schools refused to even mention their child at graduation, allow them a memorial page in the year book, and others talked about how their child's memory was all but wiped from existence by the school as though they were an enemy of Stalin.
Throughout the state and country, suicide is still a dirty little secret that many are hesitant to talk about despite the fact that suicide has surpassed homicide as the second leading cause of death among teens. The stigma surrounding mental illness, a contributing factor in 90% of suicides, still continues to keep people from coming forward and getting the help that they need. The irony is not lost on the fact that schools will spend millions of dollars and countless hours to make sure students can pass a test spend almost no money and time to make sure the same students are alive to take it.
As the school year begins to wind down, as teachers enter grades for the last time, as students clean out lockers and return book, as seniors wait patiently for their name to be called for that long awaited walk across the stage, let us not forget those that won't be walking across, those that won't be turning to wave at their parents, do back flips, fist pump, smuggle beach balls and silly string under their robes, or throw their caps high in the air when they are bestowed with the title of graduate. Way to stay classy Texas City High School.