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Writing Portfolio – Remembering Melissa

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Remembering Melissa Jenkins

Cherished Memories, Mourning Mark Memorial Service
March 31, 2012

The Caledonian-Record
by Leah Carey
Staff Writer

In a sea of pink, watercolored by heartache and tears, a community came together Friday to find comfort and to remember Melissa Jenkins.

It was standing room only for the memorial service in the Alumni Gymnasium of St. Johnsbury Academy with an overflow crowd watching a live feed in the field house. In every direction there were pink neckties on men, pink shoes on women, pink balloons and pink ribbons, all in a show of affection and respect for a woman who was deeply loved by her community.

Academy Headmaster Tom Lovett opened the service saying of Jenkins, “She loved and was loved very much. We gather in that love today, mixed with grief.” He went on to share that in his final meeting with Jenkins last week, she said to him, “We need to love those the most who need us the most.” He now calls this “Melissa’s Challenge” and repeated the sentiment several times during the ceremony.

Faculty member and friend Stefanie Lane remembered that during Jenkins’ pregnancy two years ago, they ate peanuts together and realized her baby was probably about that size at the time. “That’s when he got the nickname of Peanut,” said Lane. Many of those who spoke talked about the joy and pride Jenkins took in her son, and their wishes for him to grow up knowing of his mother’s love.

Denise Scavitto, who worked with Jenkins as a proctor of a girls’ dorm at the Academy, remembered that Melissa was proud when Ty was born that he became “the man of the house” at Tinker Dorm.

“While we can’t make sense of it … we can choose what Melissa chose – laughter, love and friends,” continued Scavitto.

Michelle Cote, also an Academy faculty member, reminisced that Jenkins’ smile and easy manner made her a favorite among her students. “How many times can one teacher be asked out to the prom?” she laughed.

Jenkins fun-loving spirit and bright smile were common threads throughout the remembrances. Student Jonathan Fangzhou Yuan, one of Jenkins’ advisee students, contrasted her smile and laughter to the terror that has accompanied her death. “Keeping our good faith in people is likely to become harder,” Yuan said. “I believe we can only conquer this negative attitude by defending the positive part of ourselves.”

Another of her advisee students, Shane LaCroix, said that when he chose advisors, he listed Jenkins third. “Words cannot explain how thankful I am for getting my third choice.”

Jenkins’ cousin Meredith Berry opened her remarks by asking the law enforcement officers who lined the back wall to fill the front row of seats. “Would you please come and sit in the front row, because you deserve the front row,” she said. The officers filed to the front during an extended standing ovation. A contingent of CALEX ambulance service members also had a visible presence, having dyed their uniform shirts pink in Jenkins’ honor.

Berry, who was flanked by her husband Eric Berry and family member Martin Beattie as she spoke, called Melissa her best friend and an inspiration. She said that the extended family has been “slowly growing apart” over the past few years. “Melissa has tried in so many ways to bring us back together, but we all got caught up in our own busy lives. But now, without even trying — Melissa, you did it. You brought us back together.” She said that the family is now planning to celebrate Easter together.

Meredith Berry also challenged the community to mark March 30 each year by wearing pink in Melissa’s memory. “That will always be the day that we honor Melissa’s memory, and Ty will smile and walk proudly, knowing that this great community loved his Mama so much.”

Jenkins’ uncle Martin Beattie, who had traveled to the Vermont State House earlier in the day, told the crowd that the Speaker of the House spoke about Melissa and presided over a moment of silence. “I realized that Melissa had united the House of Representatives by 100 percent,” said Beattie. “Every one of them was wearing a pink heart in honor of her.”

Lovett said that photos and remembrances of Jenkins have been pouring into the Academy for the past week and they will be creating a memory book filled with photos and stories for the family.

Jenkins’ memory was also honored on another campus by President Barack Obama during a speech at the University of Vermont on Friday morning. “This is a woman by all accounts who devoted her life to her community and helping to shape young minds. I know that Vermont is heartbroken,” said Obama. “All we can do is live our lives in a way that pays tribute to hers, by looking out for her students and her son.”

At the Academy, Lovett concluded the service asking the assembly to continue to honor Melissa’s memory in the days to come. “As we leave this place today, let’s remember Melissa’s challenge — to love those the most who need us the most. And to know without a doubt that despite the apparent temporary victories of tragedy, injustice, violence, death and loss, in the end love is stronger than all evils combined. In the end, love DOES win.”

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