Tuesday, September 18, 2018
Education

At Seminole High, a new sculpture recalls a popular alum killed in Pulse shooting

SEMINOLE — With the help of a friend, Christine Leinonen lifted the black veil, revealing the bronze likeness of two clasped hands.

First came the tears, and then an observation about the sculpture: The hands, she said, were the perfect representation of her son. She remembered him with a smile as someone who would always extended one.

Christopher Andrew Leinonen, who went by "Drew," was among the 49 people killed in the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando. He was 32. But years before that, as a teenager, he founded the first Gay-Straight Alliance at Seminole High.

At a ceremony Friday in the school’s courtyard, Christine Leinonen hugged her son’s old high school friends, his ninth-grade piano teacher and others who attended the unveiling, organized by the club he started.

THE GRADEBOOK: All education, all the time

He was popular in high school, she said — out when it came to his sexual orientation, proud and bubbly. Once he saw a girl sitting by herself in the cafeteria, introduced himself and told her she was going to be on the Gay-Straight Alliance board. They quickly became friends.

"My son, if he saw you and you were alone, he would reach out to you," Christine Leinonen said.

Kristin Moorehead, 17, a Seminole High senior and current president of the Gay-Straight Alliance, performed a spoken word poem written in memory of Drew.

"I’m carrying the torch of what Drew started," she said. "He started this movement of acceptance at our school. … I’m trying to make him proud."

Moorehead said the Gay-Straight Alliance helped give her a feeling of belonging during her first year in high school.

Elizabeth Crawley, a Seminole High language arts teacher and sponsor of the alliance, said she remembers the struggles her gay and bisexual friends had in high school 20 years ago without a similar space.

The sculpture, she said, is a testament to the organization’s philosophy and a source of comfort to people in the aftermath of the Pulse shooting.

"We can’t get anywhere unless we go together," she said. "Hand in hand, we can heal. Hand in hand, we are strong."

Shawn Chaudhry, 31, whose hands are captured in the sculpture, met Drew in college and the two became close friends, talking about politics and culture. Drew was curious and always interested in knowing more, Chaudhry said.

After his death, Chaudhry became founder and president of "The Dru Project," an organization that has developed curricula for Gay-Straight Alliances and raised money for the clubs.

"I haven’t met many people like him," Chaudhry said. "When you meet someone like that, you just have to keep their legacy alive."

Christine Leinonen said her son lives on through such initiatives. She said his philosophy is needed at a national level.

"Even though he died physically, he’s still alive spiritually," she said. "We need to hold hands, hold hands with the other side, hold hands with our own side."

Contact Divya Kumar at [email protected] Follow @divyadivyadivya.

 
Comments
Ernest Hooper: HCC helps light the way for those on life's winding paths

Ernest Hooper: HCC helps light the way for those on life's winding paths

After he graduated from a Maryland high school, Rickey Murray had a number of opportunities awaiting him at a number of four-year institutions.He eyed the University of South Florida, applied to Florida International University and considered Virgini...
Updated: 10 hours ago
School buses, technology updates and teacher recruitment on Hernando schools legislative agenda

School buses, technology updates and teacher recruitment on Hernando schools legislative agenda

BROOKSVILLE — Busing concerns, security technology updates and teacher recruitment efforts could headline the Hernando County School District’s concerns in Tallahassee next year. As the district’s legislative picture for 2019 sha...
Published: 09/18/18
Pasco-Hernando State College leader Robert Judson dies at age 77

Pasco-Hernando State College leader Robert Judson dies at age 77

Robert Judson, who spent a decade as a community college president, died Monday afternoon. He was 77.In 1994 Judson took the helm at Pasco-Hernando State College, then called Pasco-Hernando Community College. He became the college’s second president ...
Published: 09/17/18

Pasco Letters to the Editor for Sept. 21

Re: Pasco deal for teachers another 'slap on the face' | Sept. 7 letterKenny Blankenship’s recent letter to the editor confirms why he is a social studies teacher and not a math teacher. Like the Tampa Bay Times, Pasco County Schools has a fac...
Published: 09/17/18

Pasco Schools employees union seeks tax referendum to support pay raises

The president of Pasco County's school employees union is calling for a referendum in which voters can decide whether to increase local property taxes so teachers and staff can get raises."USEP feels that the burden for coming up with additional...
Published: 09/17/18
Betty Castor would head up spending oversight if voters approve school sales-tax hike

Betty Castor would head up spending oversight if voters approve school sales-tax hike

TAMPA — Betty Castor, long-time educator and former president of the University of South Florida, will head up a committee charged with ensuring responsible spending of a sales-tax hike for Hillsborough public schools improvements if voters approve t...
Published: 09/17/18
Palm Beach County mayor charges sexism, says school body-shamed her daughter over ripped jeans

Palm Beach County mayor charges sexism, says school body-shamed her daughter over ripped jeans

A West Palm Beach teen’s slightly exposed knee was too much for her male classmate’s hormones to handle, according to Palm Beach County Mayor Melissa McKinlay.In a Facebook post Thursday, McKinlay went on a self-styled "mom rant." She said her teenag...
Published: 09/14/18
Pinellas Technical School welcomes students

Pinellas Technical School welcomes students

SEMINOLE — The county’s first full-time technical high school recently opened its doors to students.Pinellas Technical High School, 12611 86th Ave. N., welcomed nearly 200 incoming freshmen, as well as 150 returning upperclassmen. These older student...
Published: 09/13/18
After graduates were forced offstage, UF changed commencement. Nearly 10,000 signed a petition to protest.

After graduates were forced offstage, UF changed commencement. Nearly 10,000 signed a petition to protest.

GAINESVILLE —The controversy started in May. During commencement at the University of Florida, family members and friends booed as an usher used physical force to rush more than 20 dancing graduates across the stage. It didn’t take long for the video...
Published: 09/13/18
With a college fair geared to black students, Shorecrest Prep reaches for more diversity

With a college fair geared to black students, Shorecrest Prep reaches for more diversity

ST. PETERSBURG — Janiece Simmons wasn’t expecting much when she arrived at Shorecrest Preparatory School last year for its inaugural fair for historically black colleges and universities.She wandered through the 20-some tables, taking a pamphlet here...
Published: 09/13/18