Michelle Haddix

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“I met Kiersten the first day of her sophomore year. The reason she stood out to me at first, I’m embarrassed to say, was her hair. At the time it might have been pink. It’s hard to imagine because she changed it so often. But that’s what I remember about her. I remember thinking “her hair is always different, I’m never going to remember which student she is!” But her hair was so bright. It was blonde a lot that year. She had her suicide bangs and her short bob. Which at the time, nobody had hair like that. It’s popular now to have that little bob. But she had it before it was cool. I remember thinking she looked so cute.

You know, Kiersten was always quiet. Unassumingly quiet. She always seemed to have a look on her face as though she were thinking. She was processing. In my class, we are a social history class. We always talk about societal issues, mostly. Injustice and oppression. Kiersten wasn’t a student who would openly oppose something or be angry or have outbursts about injustice. I could always tell she was thinking about it and processing it. Which I remember being really appreciative of. She had a sense of really thinking about things and trying to truly understand why oppression happened, why injustice happened and what that meant for our nation’s history. Rather than having gut emotional reactions, like most teenagers do, she was always very thoughtful. I just knew from the get go, that she would be a young person that could understand things at a much deeper and complex level than the reality that was sitting at the surface. Which is probably what makes her an amazing artist, and her artwork is so beautiful. It’s that she could understand things and appreciate things beyond what they seemed to be. She was really cool. She was always a bright light in my day and was always smiling.” 

“Towards the end of the year, after the big AP exam, the kids have to do a big thesis project where they have to have a historical argument. It’s centered around identifying current defenders of human rights in the community so that students can look up to them. It helps them see that they are the next generation of defenders. So I want them to find a human right thats been violated throughout history and that’s currently being violated today. They have to find someone thats defending that right, today. So Kiersten’s thesis that she chose was about violence against women. She did her historical timeline of violence against women, looking at laws, women’s voting rights and things like that. She ended her project looking at the LGBT community and an organization that is protecting the rights of lesbian women and violence against that very specific group of people. Her creative component was this really beautiful artwork that traveled that journey, like a montage of human rights violation against women and where we are today. It paid tribute to many women. It ended with this interview that she conducted at the organization that works with homeless teenagers that have come out as gay or lesbian and have been pushed out of their homes.

Kiersten was passionate about the project, but I could tell she was passionate about those things even before the project was assigned. For Kiersten to meet a man who was alive during the civil rights movement and was here that day speaking to young people about protecting the rights of other people, that just lit a fire in Kiersten. She started emailing me back and forth about feeling energized and how she wanted to get involved but didn’t know how, asking “what can I do?” and felt overwhelmed with passion and adrenaline & the need to do something right away. So I think she got involved with a club on campus called “Amnesty International” who works with educating young people about human rights and getting people involved. She was in the process, at the time of her death, of trying to find her way with becoming a defender for something that she was passionate about. “Which, for me, is one of the things that’s most heartbreaking is the timeliness of her end of life. A young person who was so dedicated, so excited and so energized in a way that most young people just aren’t. She was one of the few that really felt something through the process of doing this project. Her energy was around doing something to make the world better. She was trying to figure out what she needed to do, which makes losing her more difficult for me.”

“She was a calming presence. She wasn’t a rebel rouser. Kiersten had a glow about her. She had warm & bright energy. That’s what she brought to my space. A level of calm, but also awareness. She asked a lot of questions that always turned into really important discussions. She was very curious in a non-judgmental way. She wasn’t afraid to think about things that were difficult because she was calm, curious, & open to ideas. She was impassioned to use knowledge to make bigger differences that she saw needed to be made in the world.

She was very social, but she was always the quieter friend. She was the human you could be with that allowed you to be your most authentic self. She was supportive of whoever that authentic self was. All her friends were very different from one another. Kiersten was the type of person you could be with & feel comfort. You could be who you were, safely & enjoyably. She laughed a lot. Everyone loved Kiersten. She was the person to be around to feel good & accepted & cared for. That’s another reason she stood out to me.

Anytime that I get the opportunity to have kids in my room, that feel empowered, that makes my job worthwhile & makes me appreciative of the career that I have. So the mark she left on me was a reminder that even for students who are quiet, or don’t express as often, that there is work being done. There is hope for young people that recognize that there’s oppression & issues that our society faces & there are young people who want to do things to change that. It’s not just students who are vivacious & actively speaking out. I now, after Kiersten, realize that my observational students are hearing me too. My students who aren’t saying things out loud, are listening. My intention with my students should always be to know that they’re capable of being outspoken defenders for human rights. Kiersten was going to change the world, whether it be big or little. She reminded me to always pay attention, to know that the students are listening & to trust in them, that they want to make a difference. My students that are observational, like Kiersten, are probably the most likely to create change.”  Her joy was art & her passion was leaving a mark & making a difference. I know she wanted to make a difference. Big or small, she was always after making people feel loved & welcomed. She was a good friend. Some people are born with a soul to be that way. Kiersten had a beautiful life & a beautiful family, a family that she loved very much and talked about loving very much. She, I think, was just born with a soul that was made for love. She was an open hug all the time.

Shock & anger. That’s what I felt when I heard of her passing. She was a beautiful person. As a human being, she had such a beautiful soul. She had so much passion and grit. She wasn’t afraid to pursue things. She made a difference in lives of people, daily. She made a difference in mine. I have no recollection of her being anything less than an amazing human. She was the real thing. For a 16 year old girl, to leave that big of a mark, on that large of a population of people, should mean a lot. At the end of the day, it’s really about love & she loved a lot.

I would thank her. I would thank her for reminding me how important it is to teach & be around young people. I would thank her for the love that she gave to friends. I would thank her for supporting people that really needed someone to love them. I would thank her for reminding me how important it is to teach human rights. She was going to spread love to many, and I would thank her for that. #FriendsOfKier