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Who Was Troy A. Howard?

When a new middle school was being built in Belfast and was in need of a name, there were many appropriate suggestions. All who had an opinion had a reason for supporting their choice. The fact that the building came to bear the name Troy A. Howard was not because of the tragedy of a young man's death, nor was it due to a lack of respect for, or deserving of, any of the other nominees. I believe this building received its name because the name and the institution were a perfect fit.

        A middle school is a place where adolescents spend a great deal of time. These students need heroes.  Often at this age, though, they don't look to their parents or teachers. They often look to their peers, to their friends. Troy was, if nothing else, a friend and his presence inside the walls of the middle school should offer comfort to all who find themselves within the building's walls. Troy realized that being a friend was his most important role in life--that his success in school or in writing was secondary to, and in fact a result of, love, support, and friendship. He recognized that the greatest position he could achieve was not necessarily to become a best-selling author, but rather just being a friend. In his journal Troy wrote, "I have been put here as a great friend--friend of all, not lover, or seize-the-world-now, or revolutionary, but a friend. To be remembered not as anyone can be, but as different, as easy to be with, as a shoulder that leans, an ear that listens. To be remembered as someone who lived and who let others live."

        This is the role that Troy can and does play in the lives of the students who attend the school which is named for him. In him they can look to a kid who cared about other people--who cried and laughed and had friends. Anyone who has survived the turbulence of the middle school years knows that they are ones filled with many tears and much laughter and that friends are of special importance during this time.

        Troy's accomplishments extended beyond the friendships he made. Troy was conscientious and hard-working. In his own junior high years he was on the Student Council, was inducted into the National Junior Honor Society, was on the Math Team, and was part of the Gifted and Talented program. Despite his sensitivity and hard work, Troy was also comedic, humble, and at times even slightly self-deprecating. In his eighth grade yearbook he said that his favorite subject was Study Hall and that his lifetime ambition was "to become a dirty rich author." Troy was like this--although he accomplished many things and had, upon the conclusion of his public school career, a very impressive resume, he continued to be down to earth. Sometimes he got stressed out; sometimes he got frustrated. But he did not give up on things, and he saw them through to their conclusion. What Troy did not do was think he was better than anyone else. He enjoyed the pleasures of not only intellectual work, but manual labor as well, taking much satisfaction in his part-time job as stock boy at Shop 'n Save. As extraordinary as Troy was, in many ways he was just the common kid. He can serve as an inspiration to everyone for this reason--he was just a normal kid like everyone else. Anyone who has come or will come to the Troy A. Howard Middle School has the potential to do just as much as Troy did during his short life. What sets these young students apart from Troy is that they, by the grace of God, have the advantage of time that Troy was not meant to have. These children will be able to work towards their goals throughout long and potentially very prosperous lives.

        In high school, Troy, who never completely outgrew his shyness, became even more active and accomplished. He tried many different activities in the school community such as FBLA, class office, and track. He committed himself to those activities he found especially satisfying, such as The Lion's Pride, Belfast Area High School's award winning paper, of which he was editor his junior and senior years. Troy also attended Dirigo Boys State as well as three prestigious writing conferences and received numerous writing awards for his fiction. What Troy is most commonly remembered for, of course, is being valedictorian of his class, an accomplishment that earned him the right to give the farewell address to his class at his high school graduation. This speech, given only a month before his death, captured Troy's best and most memorable qualities--his writing ability, his compassion, his ability to find greater meaning in popular culture, and the performer yearning to break out of a shy exterior. Troy said in his speech, "...the best advice I can give today is to listen to your heart, listen to what you need, and go out and get it... go on painters, dancers, scientists, athletes, farmers--go on, each and every one of you and, living for right now, leave your mark on this world." As his sister, I was never so proud of him as I was that day. His words not only reached his classmates, but reached all sorts of others as well. We can all be proud of Troy, because he was a lot more than just my brother. He belonged to all of us, he was a friend to all of us; If you never met Troy do not feel this message is not for you. It is meant for everyone: Troy was, and still can be, your friend. Also, remember, especially if you are a student, do not be intimidated by a large name carved into granite. Do not be intimidated by all of Troy's titles or achievements. Do not put him on a pedestal--this is one place he would not want to be. On a pedestal one is no longer useful; he merely grows dust. Instead use him, enjoy his remaining presence. Sit next to him--perhaps on a beach somewhere--and realize that you are like him and that he is like you. He is not a lingering shadow to live under. Instead he is a persevering light to guide the way. Let this light help guide you through the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades, if not longer.