Monday, June 25, 2018

Graduation roses

As a journalist, I get to know people that I have never met and will never meet because they have passed away.

While 367 Downingtown West High School students walked to get their high school diploma, two roses were placed on two chairs that would have remained empty otherwise. One rose was for Charlotte Hannagan and one was for Cameron Evans. The school honored them with roses to remember their classmates who were there in spirit. 

Photo by Pete Bannan - Daily Local New - A rose is placed on the seat in memory of late Cameron Evans, who would have graduated with the class of 2016.  A rose was placed on another seat in memory of late Charlotte Hannagan, another Downingtown 2016 classmate. 

I never met either of them, but I felt like I knew them when I interviewed their family members, friends, classmates and teachers. I wanted the reader to get a sense of who they were because everyone told me how these two inspired people. They have a lasting legacy as their family and friends work toward causes in their loving memory.

Hours before parents Maggie and Paul Hannagan attended the 2016 West graduation, they advocated with Pennsylvania Parents Against Impaired Drivers (PA PAID) for changes to the ignition interlock law which has since passed. Charlotte, 16, was a junior when she, along with her brother Miles, 19, were killed on Valentine’s Day 2015 by a drunk driver. Days before Miles would have turned 21, Gov. Wolf signed into law requiring first-time offenders convicted of driving with an illegal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .10 or greater to use ignition interlocks for one year. Pennsylvania law already requires the locks for repeat offenders.

Downingtown West teachers said Charlotte was killed a few weeks before she would have turned 17. She enjoyed listening to pirate rock music and would often share stories about the concerts she attended with her family. She wanted to be a tattoo artist even though she never had one. Miles served as an EMT and was studying at my alma mater to be an optometrist, just like his grandfather.

Their mother, Maggie Hannagan, said when her children were killed, that “in an instant, the dreams and aspirations of our children were ended.” Maggie said she and her husband Paul have great sorrow thinking about what might have been for Charlotte and Miles.

I imagine that’s a familiar feeling for parents who have lost children.

Cameron Evans, who enjoyed running, had plans to join the West cross country team. Cameron died of leukemia at 14 in May 2012 as a Downingtown Middle School. I reported on the causes in his name all through the time he would have been in high school. Downingtown STEM Academy students hosted the Cam-A-Thon fundraiser to raise money toward “Cure 4Cam” Childhood Cancer Foundation for research. Students from Downingtown’s three high schools raised more than $45,000 for pediatric cancer research in his honor, during what would have been his senior year.

Cameron enjoyed writing. One of my favorite passages he wrote was a comparison between facing a tough life challenge and stepping in mud.

Cameron Evans wrote, “As we run through life, we step into many moments, both good and bad, but as long as we don’t change our shoes too much, there is nothing we can’t handle. Currently I am stepping in mud, and when I get out of the mud, it will leave a trace on everything else that I step on. This can be a good thing as long as I am positive in the mud, so that the trail I later leave is a good one. The mud may stain my shoe, but it will not change the brand or the foot inside, only build up its character.”

Well said, Cameron.

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