Losing a classmate, whether you just saw them in the hallways or knew their most intimate secrets, is brutal. It’s hard to wake up and think that the kid who sat in front of you first period is never going to sit in front of you again.
Montclair High School students are currently grappling with this difficulty as they mourn the loss of their fellow classmate, Eamonn David Wholley. Their grief is not limited by whether or not Wholley was their best friend. It has no bounds, because when you’ve gone to school with the same person since kindergarten—it’s traumatic and sad to lose them.
“When I heard the news about Eamonn’s death I was deeply saddened, not because we were close, but because we had grown up in the Montclair Public School System together. It breaks my heart that we started together, but won’t be finishing together,” says senior Daria Sullivan.
“I’ve known Eamonn a good portion of my life so for this to happen just weeks before graduation is so shocking and tragic,” says Kyle Lopez, who like Sullivan, has gone to school with Eamonn since he was little. “I extend my deepest condolences to his family because I know this has to be such a hard time for him.”
“It’s so awful when someone leaves the world this young,” says Eric Silverstein. “But it forces you to appreciate your life.”
Laments of sadness and lessons learned are kind, but only go so far. A Facebook post, a tweet, or a passing comment of condolence doesn’t memorialize the boy who accompanied so many on their journey through the Montclair public school system. As the expression goes, “Actions, speak louder than words.”
When it comes to fallen students, the MHS student body has been very good in turning their words into actions. Deceased staff and students are commemorated through out the school, from the bench memorializing Antonis “Tony” Anastasopoulos to the numerous scholarships and awards that are given out every year in the name of deceased educators.
This devotion to memorializing both deceased students and staff is what has inspired certain MHS seniors to help their classmates turn their kind words into actions.
Senior Lydia Gilbert has been moved by everything the high school has ever done to commemorate lost students.
“When I heard about what happened to Eamonn, my mind wandered back to what has been done in the past. The mural created for Anthony Gayle, the way all the students changed their Facebook profile pictures for Ryan Dougherty, and the custom bracelets made after Mitch Perlmeter died,” says Gilbert.
However the gesture that stuck with Gilbert the most was not the bracelets or murals, but one made of ribbon.
“The class of 2011 also memorialized Mitch through wearing ribbons on their graduation robes,” says Gilbert. “I thought that gesture was really beautiful and would be a great way for us to memorialize Eamonn.”
Gilbert has already ordered orange ribbons for every student to pin on their robes at graduation, so when they receive their diploma on June 26, a piece of their fallen classmate will be with them.
“The ribbons are orange to represent the color of the foundation, the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, that his parents asked for donations to be made to,” explains Gilbert. “We’re paying for them through donations from the students. Any left over money from those donations will be given to the foundation.”
Gilbert isn’t the only student whose making her words a reality. Senior Theresa Meyer is on the same page.
“After Eamonn’s death there was a lot of talk about how we were going to commemorate him, but there wasn’t any solid action,” says Meyer. “I felt it was absolutely necessary that these ideas be transitioned into action.”
Meyer’s plan is to have a tree planted, in memory of Eamonn Wholley, in Anderson Park, which is close to his home.
“A group of students and I have organized a meeting with the town arborist and are planning on speaking to Montclair parks and rec this week,” explains Meyer.
Whether it be through ribbons pinned on their graduation robes or the roots of a tree digging themselves into the soil in Anderson Park, MHS students won’t let their fallen classmate be forgotten because they won’t break what seems to be a heart warming tradition of remembrance at MHS.