Leslie Sherman Remembered

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  • Leslie Sherman Remembered

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Leslie Sherman Remembered

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I was fortunate to teach Leslie Sherman in my Advanced Placement European History course at West Springfield High School. She was a wonderful student with a creative mind and a great sense of humor. She was especially known for her beautiful smile and positive attitude. Leslie was always happy and cheerful and brought out the best in others. Academically, she was brilliant without being "bookish." During her senior year, she served as president of our History Honor Society and was awarded the Social Studies Department Award for outstanding scholarship. She also ran on our school cross country team for four straight years, so she was truly a gifted student-athlete. After graduation, Leslie frequently came back to visit us at West Springfield, and we were not surprised to learn that she was majoring in history and international relations at Virginia Tech. She loved history so much. Her death has come as a shock to all of us at West Springfield High School, and we are only now coming to grips with this tragedy.

Last Friday we had "Hokie Hope Day" at West Springfield. Almost everyone - students, faculty, and staff - wore Virginia Tech colors in tribute to Leslie and the other victims of the Virginia Tech shootings. Our school has established a scholarship in Leslie's name and contributions have already been made by students, teachers, and parents. Our school's National Honor Society made lapel ribbons with Hokie colors and sold them for a dollar to raise funds for the scholarship. They sold over 800 ribbons. A group of alumni is planning a West Springfield memorial run to raise money for the scholarship. I have written a song for Leslie which I hope to record so that we can sell copies to raise money for the scholarship. Others events and fundraisers will be planned by different groups in the future. The family has also requested that contributions be made to the scholarship fund in lieu of flowers.

On Tuesday, April 24, friends and family gathered at the Demaine Funeral Home in Springfield. Many people came to pay their sad respects. I was most impressed with Leslie's family. Her Father Tony, mother Holly, and sister Lisa carried themselves with a grace and dignity that was truly inspiring. I spoke with Tony at length about his daughter. He told us of the events of April 16 and how he and his wife could not reach Leslie and eventually were informed of her death when two policemen knocked on their door late that night. Leslie's mother is a veteran and her father is in the reserves. Both, I am sure, drew on their military training and experience to face this tragedy with tremendous courage. They strength and calm demeanor did more that anything to honor their fallen daughter.

The funeral was held yesterday, April 25, at the Old Presbyterian Meeting House in Old Town Alexandria at 11:00 am. Here, in a building where George Washington frequently worshipped, hundreds came to say good-bye. Many current and former students from West Springfield attended the ceremony including many from Virginia Tech. Many of her teachers attended as well. Also attending were Leslie's counselor from Tech and a member of the Board of Visitors. (Leslie's counselor told me that this was her fourth funeral in three days.) The ceremony was solemn and dignified. No members of the family or friends spoke in accordance with the strict tradition of this particular church. The hymns were all traditional and from the Presbyterian hymnal: Sing Praise to God, Who Reigns Above; Amazing Grace; and O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go.

Following the funeral service, we all gathered in front of the church for a time of fellowship and consolation. The street in front of the church had been closed off by the police in advance although some news media vehicles had been allowed to park on the far side of the street opposite the Meeting House. There were many hugs and many, many tears by both students and adults. The news media filmed and took pictures from across the street. (Cameras were not allowed inside the church.)

I was approached by one newspaper reporter (Washington Times) and one television reporter (Channel 7 News) for comments about Leslie. I declined. Partly, this was due to my frustration with the media's coverage of the entire event with its sensational emphasis on the shooter instead of his victims. Also, I did not want to appear to be grandstanding or calling attention to myself on this very sad day.

At 1:30 pm, the funeral procession began its long, slow journey to Arlington National Cemetery. This was a profoundly moving experience. There must have been 50 or 60 cars in the procession which stretched for well over a mile. Police and sheriff officers had closed all cross streets along our path so we moved at a steady pace. Some officers saluted as we passed by. One woman stood at attention with her hand over her heart. The ceremony at Arlington was simple and dignified. The color guard carried the casket from the hearse to the grave. The preacher said his prayers. We recited the Our Father. There was a moment of silence. A three-gun salute from off in the distance. Then it was done.

But it is not over. Those of us who knew and loved Leslie will never forget her. I taught her about history, but she taught me about life. Her positive spirit, energy and love of life have left an indelible impression on many people. Her tireless efforts to help those less fortunate have touched the lives of so many. Her memory will live on in our hearts and minds forever.

A final note on all of this. The internet has played a significant role for all of us in trying to make sense of this senseless act. Any number of "tribute" pages can be found where people have posted messages and shared their thoughts. In Leslie's case, these have included The Washington Post, New York Times, CNN, Legacy.com, and others. A Google search on "Leslie Sherman" reveals an almost endless variety of websites and postings about Leslie including photos and biographical material as well as remembrances and condolences to the family. Many of these messages are from people who did not know Leslie or any of the other victims. Yet, people somehow have gained a sense of connectedness by expressing their thoughts and emotions in this new virtual "public square." I think the impact of this kind of digital gathering place is only now being recognized as an important new characteristic of our modern culture. It has helped me, and perhaps many others, to comprehend the incomprehensible loss of Leslie's life.

Creator

Ronald Maggiano

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Date

2007-04-26

Contributor

Ronald Maggiano

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eng

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Citation

Ronald Maggiano, "Leslie Sherman Remembered," in The April 16 Archive, Item #26, http://www.april16archive.org/items/show/26 (accessed October 1, 2014).