It’s been almost 20 years since I last saw her. We met a handful of times. Yet, I will never forget Jessica. Some people impact your life in ways you can’t imagine.
Early in my career, I volunteered for Junior Achievement. I was assigned a first-grade classroom at one of the most economically challenged schools in my community. I met five times with the class to deliver the required curriculum which included discussion of community, family, and education. I was asked to give the students a small gift at the end of the class. After much thought, I decided to give the students a $10 gift card to Barnes and Noble. At the time, I had no idea that most of the students had never owned a book or knew Barnes and Noble existed.
The teacher would arrange for a “field trip” to Barnes and Noble so students could pick out their books. Like most kids, they loved the idea of a field trip. On a couple of occasions, I met the class and helped the students pick out their books. To see their joy and excitement was amazing. Many struggled with their decisions. I told them they could band together with several picking a book in a series and promising to trade the books as they read them. In the end, we all posed for a picture. The students would depart and our paths would never cross again.
One of those pictures is part of this post. I have circled one of the students. Her name was Jessica. With every visit to her classroom, she greeted me with a beaming smile and A LOT of questions. Questions about what I did for a living. Where was my office? Was I married? Did I have kids? What were my kids like? Did I want to see her latest art project? A couple of times her teacher reminded Jessica that I was there for all the students to learn. And when I would leave the class all of the students would say goodbye and give me a hug. Jessica wanted to be the last one.
I never saw Jessica again after that day at Barnes and Noble. She did write a thank you note for her book. Yet, a year later she was in the news. I only knew her by her first name. When I went back to the same classroom with the same teacher, she pulled me aside and told me the news. Jessica had been murdered. She would be 26 if still alive. I think of Jessica often. I think of her curiosity. I wonder what could have been. I had no idea that this precocious, curious, and kinds child would be a part of me forever. I post this today because today is the anniversary of her death.