Howell students reflect on classmate's life
Before saying goodbye to teachers and friends, before considering new beginnings and big decisions to stay in public school or enroll in private, before crossing into the next step of adulthood, Howell Middle School students paused to remember one of their own.
Hundreds of students gathered in front of the school Thursday morning for a dedication honoring Matthew Spann and thanking his parents, Kenny and Melissa Spann, for a contribution that provided the school with a new electronic marquee.
Matthew's portrait, a smiling 14-year-old boy on the verge of manhood, will be a fixture on the marquee.
"As long as we're alive, we're going to keep our son's memory alive," his mother said. "If there's anything we can do to help out in the public, it's going to be in memory of Matthew."
Principal Clark Motley said the new electronic marquee has been needed for several years.
While Melissa Spann was serving on Howell's parent-teacher organization, she learned that the school wanted to raise funds for the new sign.
"They donated $5,000 to make it possible," Motley said.
Thursday marked the second time the Spanns were at Howell since their son died Feb. 21, 2012.
Although returning to Matthew's school was an emotional challenge, Kenny Spann said being surrounded by his son's classmates and teachers was comforting.
"It's a little tough to endure," he said. "Nearly everyone there knew him. It was like when he showed up to school, he brightened everyone up."
For them, Matthew's death is still very fresh.
"The children that came up to us, some children didn't even know him and said that they felt, just by looking at his picture, that they knew him all their life," his mother said.
Matthew's best friends, Brayden and Brandon Tumlinson, 14 and 12, are still coming to terms with the loss of their friend.
The two brothers were pallbearers at Matthew's funeral.
"It's been better than last year, but sometimes it's still hard," Brayden said with tears swelling in his eyes.
Brayden said he will never forget the time he spent with his best friend hunting and fishing and the stories they shared.
"We went fishing one time, but we forgot the bait," he said. It was Matthew's idea to fish with cat food.
Brayden will go into high school next year, but for the time being, he said he doesn't want to think about school anymore.
"I don't want to forget about Matthew, but I don't want to think about it," he said. "I want to make the last day fun. I'll try to make it a good day."
Several students read poems and prayers during the dedication.
As principal, Motley spoke at the end of the event, encouraging students to live their lives making a positive impact on the world.
He said the past year has been hard for students experiencing the loss of a classmate.
"I just want the kids to know ... life is going to present tragedies and challenges," he said.
He urged students to live for something larger than themselves.
"Become something more than what you started," he said. "Keep the spirit of Matthew with you."
Melissa Spann said she hopes her son's impact on his classmates will live on.
"I have to keep reminding myself to smile - that was Matthew's signature," she said. "His impact on kids, that's going to carry on with them from here to the end of their lives."