It’s been more than a decade since I took high school Spanish, and outside of opening a conversation or ordering french fries, there isn’t a whole lot I remember from three years’ worth of classes.
But one thing stands out vividly. My teacher, Barbara Pedri, was telling the class about the reality that someone in our grade would likely pass away before graduation. To a group of sophomores who were around 15 or 16 years old, it was a jarring revelation.
That’s not something you think about in high school. You also tend to figure that if something so tragic were to ever actually unfold, there’s no way it would ever be to someone you know.
Then it happens.
For me, it was Jensy Mendez — a kind-hearted, soft-spoken, former basketball teammate, and classmate of mine — during my senior year.
It seems like everyday there is another community somewhere suffering the loss of someone well before their time should have been up. The hope is that it never hits your community. The hope is that it never hits your inner circle. The reality is that it can, and sometimes will.
What then? We see how they honor those who have passed on, but how do high school students cope with the loss of a friend, a significant other, a teammate, or a sibling?
Harrison and Eastchester have been saddled with the misfortune of having to go through the grieving process on almost a cyclical basis. Among the young losses in the last two years are Harrison’s Andrew Gurgitano, 16, and John DeFonce, 20, and Eastchester’s Nick DePippo, 23, and Francesco Goncalves, 20.
“Nobody wanted to really say anything,” said Eastchester volleyball setter Karly DiSanto, who is coached by Nick’s parents, Kathy and Al. “We just kind of wanted to be there for her.”
Kathy DePippo said that her bond with the team helped both parties grieve quickly, and in a healthy way.
“It’s the most awful thing you ever want to experience in your life,” DePippo said, sporting a red silicone wristband with her son’s name on it. “The other option was just crawling in a hole and giving everything up, and that just wasn’t who we were.”
When Tappan Zee lost two students — Mickey Reeves and Jimmy Hauburger — in the same calendar year in 2015, student-athletes found an outlet in sports.
Both varsity basketball teams used Reeves’ passing as the fuel to County Center runs that season. Carmella Liscio, who wrote “MICKEY” on her left wrist in permanent marker, said the days after Reeves’ death were “emotional.” Amanda Paul, who was a senior at the time, said the loss “hit home for everyone.”
When the football team clinched a playoff berth days after Hauburger’s passing, quarterback Liam Donohue said it was a “lift” to the community.
The reality is that death is a part of life for all of us, and that we will all have to go through the grieving process at some point, but high school students shouldn’t have to bear that burden — not for kids their own age. High school should be a time spent making memories and forging relationships with people that last long after you graduate, not attending wakes and funerals.
“I think that everyone just needs to come together and know that there’s a way to move past it,” DiSanto said. “Life is gonna go on, and we just have to be more careful and support each other.”