School News

Ninth Graders receive Alex Grace Award

Michael Corazza and Leanna Miller receive New Indian School's Alex Grace Award

9th grade graduates Leanna Miller and Michael Corazza receive New Indian School's Alex Grace Award for displaying the school's highest ideals: kindness, courage, integrity, and wisdom. The award is named for former New Indian School student Alex Grace, who embodied all these qualities and brightened the lives of those around him up through the last day of his noble fight against cancer.

Who Was Alex Grace?

John Armstrong, a friend of Alex and Dean of the Boys' School answers in a letter to 2011 Alex Grace Award recipients:

Dear Michael and Leanna,

I had brief conversations with each of you about the award the other night, and I’ve been feeling that I would really like to expand on what we talked about and hopefully help put things in context a little more.

Alex was a classmate of mine from 3rd grade until he passed away at the beginning of our 8th grade year, and I’ve just been thinking it would be nice to share some more things about him and some memories I have. The first really strong memory I have of him was in 3rd grade.

Our teacher, Mrs. Lynch, had a routine in her class that featured a “student of the week,” and that kid got to tell his story about who he was and bring in pictures and items that were important to him. Usually a parent would come in as a part of this.

I remember when it was Alex’s turn I was really impressed. He had moved from Vancouver Island, and his mom came in with a compound hunting bow and some sage and other plants that she proceeded to burn in our classroom. They also told a story about how he and his brother had been walking in the woods one time and realized that they were being stalked by a cougar. I don’t remember how the story ended, but I do remember thinking that this was one seriously cool kid.

One of the most obviously noticeable things about Alex was that he was really, really small. He was by far the shortest kid in the class, which is a pretty big deal to elementary school boys. But he was strong and very confident. Not in a cocky way, but he just carried himself well. He wasn’t afraid to be who he was. There are a couple examples of this that I always remember.

One was that he always did his meditation when we did our program together as a class. This may not seem particularly impressive, but if you’re familiar with New Indian School lower school boys, you’ll know that many of them at one point or another won’t want to sit still during meditation. I think that was true of every boy in my class except for Alex. He just always kept his eyes closed and meditated. It may seem like a trivial thing, but it’s actually really impressive for an 11 year old. And I don’t think there was a lot of thought to it – lots of us enjoyed meditating, but he had the integrity to do his own thing in a class full of clowns.

Another thing that really set Alex apart was his passion for dance. At some point, I don’t remember exactly when, he really fell in love with dance. I think he did several kinds, but I mainly remember him doing ballet. Not surprisingly, there weren’t any other boys our age who danced. Also unsurprisingly, his friends gave him a pretty hard time for it. I mean, what 6th grader wouldn’t kid his classmate for doing ballet? At some point, though, I think most of us had the realization that he was the only guy who actually got to spend time with all the girls in the school, and that silenced the jokes.

Because Alex lived right across the street from school, he was usually easy to find, and had the best backyard of anyone. This led to some great adventures (and some mischief).

We also played capture the flag around campus, and played in the enormous puddle that forms by the bus stop in front of school (yes, it was there back then too).

Alex found out he had a brain tumor sometime in 7th grade. I don’t remember exactly which month it was, but I do remember it was a day or two after he asked out the prettiest girl in the grade above us. For some reason my 7th grade mind drew the logical conclusion that the tumor was waiting to show itself until he had passed this ultimate test of manliness.

He was absent for a few days then came back, and then was absent again for a much longer period. When he came back the second time, he’d had surgery and was doing chemotherapy, so all his hair was gone. There was a huge scar and stitches where they had operated – they literally needed to cut open his skull to get in where the tumor was. We had a great time feeling the soft spot on the top of his head.

I don’t remember how long he was back in school, but after some time he had to leave again to return to the hospital. I went with a couple friends to visit him in the hospital in Iowa City, and he was really happy to see us since he had been bedridden for a while in a room to himself and had been terribly bored. His mom had been by his side the whole time, but there’s still nothing like seeing friends. He was also amazingly positive. It's mainly remarkable in retrospect, because at the time I don’t think we really had any idea how severe the cancer was, but he was just his normal upbeat, positive self.

I have other memories too, some of which are disappearing, but I hope that this helps give more of a feeling about who Alex was. He was a very real but genuinely wonderful kid. And it’s not just in looking back that I can say that. Even as 7th graders, we all really admired Alex for being who he was, which is unusual for boys of that age.

Personally, I consider the Alex Grace award to be a greater honor than the Pioneer Award (the 12th grade equivalent) because it honors a real person who had great kindness, compassion, integrity, and wisdom. The other great thing about this award is that it is a nice reminder to the recipients, and hopefully the whole class, to take some time to think about how to treat other people and live life. So I want to congratulate both of you again for having the wonderful qualities represented by this award, encourage you to continue to develop them, and thank you for honoring a very special person.

Take care, and I hope you have wonderful summers.

Mr. Armstrong

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