“Somewhere along the line, I found that building relationships with my students was such a strength for my classes in what I was trying to do. It drove me & made me feel great about what I was doing. Those relationships would continue even after they graduated. I’m still in touch with some of those students from my early teaching days. This is my 8th year at Herron. I try to absolutely be here for them. The “I love you” at the end of class is, I honestly believe some of these kids don’t hear it anywhere else. They all deserve to hear it every single day from somebody. Even if its the Christian love with which I feel I’m emulating and loving them with. I try really hard at the end of class to say “I love you all! Have a great day!” just so they hear that on their way out. Tying Kiersten right into that was one of the things in girls chorus she would do. If I got to the end of class and forgot, she would sit there and insist on making me say it or reminding me. She would say “Umm. Mr. Riley?” & she would wait for it many, many times. That helped me a lot because some of those days, I needed to say it but really didn’t feel it. She absolutely held me accountable to saying it.
Her freshman year she was in a big group and I got to know her a bit then. She participated in an a cappella club, which is a before school extra curricular. We weren’t real close her first year, but she continued in Girls Chorus her sophomore year, with some of her close friends & that group really got along, or when they weren’t getting along, they were good about working out their problems. That was a wonderful group. They were the first group I took to contest that was successful. They got gold on their ensemble contest and there were only 9 girls, Kiersten being one of them. We also went to choir contest with the group, and I believe they got gold and moved onto state. It was the first year we’d ever gone. They really did blaze some trails & did some really good work. Kiersten and that group helped transition it to what’s on par with our advanced choir. So now we have two advanced choirs. She was part of that group that really brought them to another level.”
“I remember her having quirky music taste. She was an old soul when it came to music. When we had the chance to sing Foreigner on stage, we could talk about them & she knew who they were. I’d always ask about the concerts she went to. She always enjoyed music, but she enjoyed it with other people and the bonds that it made when she went. I’d ask her “Who’d you go see?” & she’d say “I went to see (this band)” but she always emphasized who she went with. So it was a shared bonding experience for her, which is great. Live music is amazing and powerful, no matter what it is. I appreciated the fact that she really loved that. Also, she’d come in with a band shirt on & I’d be like “Seriously?” I remember a lot of 70’s rock band shirts.
There was never any negative interaction between us. In a girls chorus, eventually, somebody is going to get on somebody’s nerves. I certainly, at some point, got on their nerves. Sometimes I’d push them that way, intentionally. I don’t remember having that negative interaction with her. She was all in, all the time. I don’t feel like she ever wanted to stop or to resist moving forward in any way.
Leading up to December, I had emails from her. She wanted to come see the girls sing at the concert. She wanted to come see everybody. At the concert, I kept thinking about how she was supposed to be there. It makes you look back, it makes you realize how important it is to keep developing relationships with the students. Hearing from her mom & dad that I was important to her, it just fills me with energy and enthusiasm to keep doing what I’m doing. Being important to her means that I need to keep pushing myself to be available to anyone who wants or needs it. It’s inspiring. She’s inspiring to me. I think about her all the time. When I’m wrapping up a class, it’s her voice and her face in my head saying “Mr. Riley – make sure you close with “I love you guys”.”
“I hope I’ve been there for her close friends & done all that I can. Those relationships are special because we’ve gone through this together. I think about her often. It’s always good. She makes me a better teacher, a better person.
The Herron students maybe didn’t feel the impact of her death, as quickly as, say, her friends at Mooresville. For the Mooresville students, the desk was empty, her seat was empty. That can spurn and move the grieving process along. It can also hold it back. Some kids are different. At Herron, they were already not seeing her at school. I check in and observe the kids here that lost Kiersten. Some of them here took it very hard.
Honoring her would be to do the things she reinforced me to do. Being kind. Offering up a loving relationship that I work on everyday. I’m a Christian. I try to live Christ’s love with everybody. You can’t find anyone I hate. I just don’t let myself do it. I always tell the kids we always think the heart is responsible for love. But it’s responsible for hate too. If you let it fill with hate then you lack the capacity to love. So I’m all about 100% love. I tell people I love them. Too often we talk about love as being romantic or physical love. That’s not what Christ’s love was about at all. It’s about being there for people, lifting them up all the time. I keep working at that. I know that’s what brought Kiersten and I together, & that’s what I want. To be available to people that need or want that.
Kiersten was a light. Often times, when someone else was in darkness. That’s how I remember her. Her favorite color was yellow. I just think of the light. She was that for a lot of people and a light for the world.
Her family is inspiring to me. They’ve continued to hold up a lot of people. They’ve turned their tragedy into something as positive as it can be. By continuing to reach out & involve & support Kiersten’s friends & family. Without hardly even knowing all of them, I love them. I hope that somehow, I’ve been helpful to them.
If I could talk to her again, I would tell her I love her. I would tell her that the way she treated people had an effect. We are all better for having known her.” #FriendsOfKier