41.  Discovering a Voice

At the end of this first year back teaching, I decided that a scholarship in Jonathan’s memory should be presented to a graduating senior at Dartmouth High School. So many people seemed to have forgotten Jonathan and the fact that he had walked these halls for four years. I needed to say his name and tell the wonderful things he had done. When I told Bob I wanted to set the scholarship up, he wondered who would present it. I knew immediately  I would be able to do it. It would take great courage but I felt it would be healing to stand in front of people and talk about Jonathan. So the first Jonathan Blake Waxler Memorial Scholarship was established at Dartmouth High School. Kristi Maso, a graduating senior who had spent many hours promoting social justice, would receive the first award. That night, Bob reminded me that he would be in the front row, waiting to take over if I could not go on. But when I stood up to talk, I took a deep breath and a wonderful feeling came over me. This was a chance to talk about my son. As I began to speak, all eyes were on me, many filled with tears.


I can still hear Linda’s voice that night, near the end of the second year after Jonathan’s death. From my place in the front row, I looked up at Linda as she approached the podium from her seat on the stage. No tears, no wavering. She walked with a simple sense of pride and dignity. It was as if she were giving birth again.


“My son, Jonathan Waxler, graduated from Dartmouth High School in 1987 and from UMass Amherst with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1991 and with a master’s degree in labor studies and education in 1993. In his brief 26 years, Jonathan helped organize community groups, worked with labor unions, campaigned for educational and social issues, taught a course at UMass Amherst on labor history, had articles that he wrote published, and in general worked tirelessly to improve the lives of people less fortunate than himself.

When he was working for the United Electrical Workers in the fall of 1993, my husband and I attended a dinner with Jonathan, his colleagues, and several of the workers he had been helping. One woman told me she wanted to meet Jonathan’s parents because as she put it: “Jonathan has changed my life. With his help, my dignity has been restored.”

Jonathan died a tragic death on August 20, 1995. Words will never express how much I, my husband Bob, my son Jeremy, our family, and all of his friends miss him. We will forever have a hole in our hearts. When his friends from all over the country gathered at a memorial service to celebrate his life, each one spoke about how much Jonathan had enriched their young lives. Jonathan lived only for a short time, but during that time he gave to others all that he had. He knew the meaning of giving, and so he touched more people in his short life than many do blessed with a long life.”


The response the next day was heart warming. People came to tell me how moved they were by the presentation and they did indeed remember Jonathan and often thought about him. These were the people that had turned away when they saw me in the hall and walked the other way. I would present this scholarship for three more years but finally stopped because the person in charge of the awards ceremony decided to make it as hard as possible to present the award. There will always be those whose cruelty will astound me.


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