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When I was asked to speak at this luncheon, I instantly felt incredible pressure.  I have the opportunity to speak in front of a graduating class.  I’m not sure what graduating seniors need to hear.  But I do know what I need to say.  When asked to speak I wanted to say no because I’m terrified to get up in front of large groups.  Bailing out was the easy way.  But a little voice inside of me said, “don’t be such a wuss, put the hat on and get up and speak.”  I’m a CUBS fan.  (put on my CUBS hat) This size 7 3/4 hat will give me confidence.  I don’t want to lecture, nor do I want to preach.  I simply want to tell you a story.  This school year we’ve all heard stories of tragedy and heroes.  

I met my biggest hero, 12 Years ago, on the first day of school.   I was sitting in an empty room waiting for the students to come in.  In walked this wiry little kid.  He was bouncing around, excited to be in school.  His name was Brandon.  He was about 5’5 and about 110 pounds with a huge smile and big brown eyes full of life. 


He came in wearing this ugly black Colorado Rockies hat.  I noted that only cubs hats would be allowed in class.  He was wearing shorts with no pockets and he needed a dollar.  I took his hat off and stuck a dollar in the rim, and commented that the hat is worth something now.  We spent the next few weeks making fun of each other’s baseball teams.  I’m not sure how many times I took his hat from him.  He was very fast and hard to catch.  I had to resort to trickery.  But each time there was no dollar in the rim I kept it for the day. 

I have never had a student so full of life. He had the curiosity of a 3 year old.  He was always asking questions.  I told him someday he would be a scientist.  He had great grades, lots of friends and had a dream to play professional Baseball. 

About 2 months into the school year Brandon came in and told me he was going to go see the Colorado Rockies play at Dodger's Stadium.  He apologized for missing school and asked for his make-up work.  At the game he felt tingling in his legs.  He came back and handed in all his work.  He was so excited about the game.  The only bad thing was he had a severe case of bleacher butt.  The tingling did not go away.  Within 2 weeks he had to walk on crutches.  I never heard him complain or use the crutches as an excuse to be late.  He actually said that chicks dig crutches.  He made it to class every day.  I had an advantage in taking his hat now!  I took it more frequently and each time he had a dollar in the rim.

At the end of the first quarter Brandon was experiencing pain in his legs.  His parents took him to the Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles.  He came home with all of his work done and wanted to know what he missed.  He never mentioned they found a tumor in his spine and he needed to have it removed. His dream to play pro baseball became a dream to attend college.

As the tumor grew, Brandon became confined to a wheelchair.  He held trials for students to push him to class.  He demanded that they get him to class on time and if they made him late, he fired them.  Being in a wheelchair was never used as a excuse.  Brandon seldom missed a bell.  When Brandon was wheeled into class he always had a big smile on his face.   He never mentioned the tumor and how it could not be removed.  He never mentioned how it had moved into his brain stem.  His dream of attending college became a dream to attend high school.  He began losing control of arm movement.  This made it really easy to get that ugly black Colorado Rockies hat from him.  And each time I took it, it had a dollar in the rim.

At the end of the school year, it was time for chemotherapy.  Brandon spent the summer in Los Angeles.  He gained 100 pounds, lost his hair, and lost control of his waist, bladder and bowels.

Coming back to school he was almost not recognizable.  This strong young kid full of life became a huge, hairless, paralyzed figure.  I knew it was Brandon however.  His eyes where full of life and he had on this ugly black Colorado Rockies hat.  After a few weeks of attending school, Brandon was missing more and more class.  He would go to the bathroom in his wheelchair and would be irritated that he had to miss the rest of class.  He finally lost control of his breathing.  I was informed I needed to shake him periodically to keep him breathing.

Brandon’s goal was to now finish 8th grade.  The administrators and teachers decided with his parents that he needed to be home when he died.  We felt the other students could not handle seeing Brandon die.  The routine of moving from room to room was overwhelming and for the first time I saw the life leave his big brown eyes.  Brandon left class.  After 2 days the empty table got to the students.  They called for a meeting and Brandon come back to school.  The students were prepared for what may happen.  There was a wheelchair crew ready to take his lifeless body to the office if he passed in class.

The day before Christmas break Brandon was wheeled into science class.  His eyes had a different look.  He looked like he had a scheme going.  I took his hat and checked for the bill.  All was complete.  Then his wheelchair driver handed me a brown paper sack.  It was folded at the top.  When I took it I could feel Brandon’s smile behind his motionless face.  I opened the bag and removed an ugly black Colorado Rockies hat.  I looked under the rim and it had a dollar in it.  But this hat was size 7 ¾.  My size. 

Brandon never made it back to school.  He died March 12,  1993

Now when I feel like want to quit or I need a little pick me up.  I put on the ugly black hat, size 7 ¾, with a dollar in the rim.  And I get the strength I need to continue.  (put on the ugly black hat).  And to this day I leave the desk closest to the door empty.   When I’m in class and I see the empty desk it reminds me to make today count.

I learned more from Brandon than I can ever teach in my lifetime!  He literally changed the way I try to live my life.  I wish I could be so full of life and not sweat the little things no matter how huge I make them.

Brandon taught me to CELEBRATE LIFE.

This is not a sad story of a boy who died.  This is a happy story of a boy lived.

A message from Brandon:

            When you wake up tired and want to stay in bed get up and… CELEBRATE LIFE

            When you’re job is getting you down and you feel trapped… CELEBRATE LIFE

            When you’re alone in a dorm room studying for finals… CELEBRATE LIFE

            When you car refuses to start and it is raining outside… CELEBRATE LIFE

            When you have to stay up all night with sick children… CELEBRATE LIFE

            When you get stressed about money or your future… CELEBRATE LIFE

            When you’re not getting along with loved ones… CELEBRATE LIFE

            When you’re terrified to speak at a senior luncheon and you want to take the easy way out and skip it…

                                                                                                                                                CELEBRATE LIFE

CELEBRATE LIFE…Well, that wasn’t so hard! 

Thanks Brandon!

Good luck Graduates!

And remember to ALWAYS ASK WHY!

jonathan logan


Thanks Brandon!


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