When we took your classmate, Nick, to Karigon’s playground when he was about two years old, we had no notion what his attending such a large school district would entail. We didn’t know who his best friends would be, how he would do in class, or what he would want to be when he grew up. We were only filled with love for this wonderful child.
Nick attended Skano and Karigon Elementary Schools and his brother, Stephen, redistricted to Orenda in 5th grade. They easily adjusted to the changes and the small classrooms provided that close community atmosphere. It was the summer before Nick entered 8th grade and Stephen 6th, when Nick was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). A school plan was implemented, and the Shenendehowa community and beyond reached out to us with open arms and hearts.
When Nick died suddenly in late October of 2008, our family, friends and Nick’s classmates were devastated. Jill Bush, the Gowana principal, at the time, came to say goodbye to Nick at the hospital. His teachers visited, and many of you took the time to be with him, despite the horrible circumstances. Mr. VanGelder, the assistant principal, organized a photo of Nick’s classmates clad in red to show the love you felt for a young boy just stretching his mind out into manhood. You mourned him because you missed his sense of humor, his trust, his loyalty, and his ability to stand out among hundreds of fellow students as an individual and a leader. As a family we were cocooned in the strength and love of a community no longer huge and imposing, but gentle, kind, and compassionate.
When our family and friends formed Nick’s Fight to be Healed Foundation, Dylan Mayo had recently passed away, Sammie Sagnelli was still battling, and Luke Romano was struggling and having an especially hard time. The Romanos, Sagnellis and the community were empowered and ready to make a tremendous impact on the world of childhood cancer.
Many of you needed an outlet and a way to make sense of a senseless loss. You implemented a number of programs throughout these last four and a half years that will forever be etched in our minds. Some of Nick’s close friends formed Nick’s Round Table, a teen advisory group to help other teens fight cancer. You raised money, awareness, taught others how to talk to their peers with cancer, and you gave HOPE. You visited children in the hospital and kept them occupied while receiving treatment; provided movies and video games; purchased specialized bags filled with comforting items and encouraging letters. You texted cancer patients, made quilts, and sent birthday gifts. You changed children’s lives so much that over 60 students have since joined, and colleges like RIT are following our example and forming their own chapters of Nick’s Round Table.
When Nick passed, Stephen was left to begin middle school without the big brother who always looked after him. We don’t remember much of those three years, but do recall that Stephen was well cared for by you and the Shenendehowa community. You comforted Stephen, played soccer with him, took him to the movies, and treated him like the kid he was supposed to be. In 10th grade, you hung out with him, talked between classes, and looked after him. Maybe it was because of his connection to Nick or maybe it’s just who he has become. Whatever the reason, you helped Stephen get through the worst loss a sibling can face. He will miss you.
The beginning of this past school year was hard on our family as we thought about Nick missing his senior year milestones. When our community lost Chris Stewart and Deanna Rivers, the year got exponentially worse. Again you came together and cocooned the families of Chris, Deanna, Bailey and Matt. Teams who were rivals saw more than competitive enemies; they reached out in sympathy and compassion and helped one another stand again. Your generation has been asked to give up your innocence way too early. You have been forced to grow up emotionally. But you have shown that no matter how much it hurts, you are willing to make a difference.
You are just beginning your lives as adults. You have risen above these tragedies. Yes it still hurts, the pain is real and the grief may never truly go away. But you have taken action and you know you can evoke change. So what else can you do? Perhaps when your friend is sick with the flu, you’ll send her a text or give her a call to make sure she’s OK. When your aunt is in a nursing home suffering from dementia, maybe you’ll visit and hold her hand to keep her connected to your world for a while longer. Perhaps you’ll step into the world of cancer research or become a police officer and educate young adults on the horrendous consequences of drinking and driving or you’ll sit with your grandparent during his last breath of life.
When you do this, when you open yourself up to giving selflessly and unconditionally, you will understand the amazing gift of love. Only then will you know that this is what life is all about. Then you can live your life under that guideline, through those principles and fully comprehend the value of reaching out to others.
I have heard that Chris and Deanna lived as Nick did—fully and completely engulfed in their love of life, family, and friends. Their journeys have brought you here—to this moment. My wish is that their journeys will empower you to make a difference in whatever you do. So that at the end of your life, you will be able to say, “Yes I followed my path, I made this world a better place and I gave to others.” Whatever you do, listen to that pulse, that life inside of you that is your guide to letting you know you are on the right path. It’s stronger than your heartbeat. When you feel it, you know you are following your journey. Listen to it. Respect it. Act upon it.
We are very proud of you. You have helped so many of your peers get through their own grief, you have helped our family, the Stewart, Rivers, Hardy, and Wind families handle such hard circumstances. You have stepped out of your comfort zones to talk about cancer. You have reached out to us, the Romanos and countless others to support the siblings who have been left behind. You are simply amazing. And this is only the beginning of your lives. You are destined to be incredible. You are prepared to make your world better, safer, stronger, and more compassionate.
Yes, this community is large. Some people still don’t know about our children or our causes. Some choose not to be involved. For those who have chosen to reach out and to live with their eyes wide open, this community is as close as a small town. Thank you to the Shenendehowa School District, the administration and teachers for providing the space for this class to make a difference. Thank you to the Town of Clifton Park and surrounding communities for your endless support. Heartfelt thanks and appreciation to the Shenendehowa Class of 2013 for caring for others when they needed it most. You are kind, giving, and strong. You have helped us more than you will ever know and we are forever grateful.
Janine and Lucas Cammarata