Please help the community of Glenelg MD remember their friend Grace McComas at their 2014 graduation. The students of Glenelg High School have been denied the right to wear blue ribbon in her honor at their high school graduation this year. Grace would have been walking across that stage with them this Spring but took her own life almost two years ago as a result of cyber bullying. Grace's friends have asked the school administration and the board of education and were denied. Please refer to the letter below written by a fellow Glenelg alumni, and read the linked article to the story that ran in The Baltimore Sun. Help us let her friends and family show their love and support and honor her memory.
Dear Principal Schindler,
My name is Damon Krometis, and I am a member of the Glenelg High School Class of 2001. I am writing to you today in an open letter to express my dismay at the administration's stance towards the friends of Grace McComas, who wish to wear a blue ribbon at their graduation in her memory. I find the administration and county school board's lack of support very surprising and concerning, especially considering the level of support Glenelg once offered me in my acts of memory and personal grief.
In September 1999, I lost my mother quite suddenly to heart disease. A year later, I wrote a play loosely based on my grief, and my teacher Sue Miller encouraged me to direct it at Glenelg in May 2001. The administration supported this effort; they invited the community to see my play, and allowed any senior or personal friend of mine to be dismissed from class to come watch the performance. This was a tremendous moment in my healing and development, and I have been forever grateful for that.
Putting on that play encouraged me to go into the arts, and I have spent the last decade using true stories to promote social responsibility and empathy. I have assisted artists and created my own work tackling homophobia, sexual violence, teen homicide and even the atrocities of Apartheid. I have taught theater to groups of children who themselves have lost a parent. I am now on the verge of completing my Masters of Fine Arts in Directing at Northwestern University, and my thesis focuses on the ways theater can responsibly engage communities in addressing their toughest challenges. My experience and my research has only reinforced the lesson Glenelg taught me 13 years ago: that acts of performing memory are essential for healing, reflection, and encouraging others to take personal responsibility.
This is why I find your refusal to allow students to openly remember Grace during graduation so disturbing. I understand the administration's desire not to "glorify" suicide or other negative behavior. I've seen the Glenelg administration navigate such challenges before. At the beginning of our senior year, my classmate, JT Smart, died in a drunk driving accident whilst fleeing the police. The yearbook printed a full page spread remembering his life, and for a moment this made me angry. His actions deserved no glorification, and I worried this spread would do just that.
But what I came to understand was that remembering a person and condoning an act are not essentially linked. I saw how much my classmates were suffering, and knew from personal experience they needed some way to constructively remember him. The yearbook helped fill this need. At the same, I remember the school made extra efforts to promote safe driving and discourage drinking through guest speakers and school wife events. This initiative channeled our feelings about JT's death and encouraged us to take responsibility for our personal safety. Separate spaces were created for grief and instruction, and both were essential.
Many positive steps have come out of Grace's senseless death, from Grace's Law to the actions Maryland schools have taken with Facebook against Cyberbullying. I am glad to see that Glenelg has been part of those efforts to change the culture, much like you did in the wake of JT Smart's death. But your stance against remembering Grace at graduation suggests you are not invested in creating an equal space for memory. I believe this means your work is incomplete.
Public remembrance of Grace will not encourage suicide. Rather, discouraging acts of memory in the name of non-existent county rules only stunts growth and causes further harm. By forcing students to wear easily hidden bracelets or tattoos, you communicate to them that it is shameful to grieve their friend. By refusing to let students distribute even these hidden reminders on school grounds tells them that it is shameful to use their memories to insure that nobody is bullied to death again. Glenelg's current position on the graduation ribbons begins to undo all the good that has been achieved in the two years since Grace killed herself.
I appreciate the complexity of the situation and applaud your attempts to confer with the McComas family, as they are integral to this process. But students need their separate space too. I ask that you please reconsider your stance, and find a way for students to openly remember Grace as they look to close this chapter of their lives. As somebody whom Glenelg helped grieve for over two years, I can assure you that in the case of Grace McComas, the work of healing is not done, however much we all wish it were.
Thank you for your consideration of my letter.
Glenelg High School Class of 2001
Also refer to the article published by The Baltimore Sun today: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-reimer-blue-for-grace-20140326,0,4695648.column