It has been almost three months.
If it weren’t for a calendar confirming that fact, I would be hard-pressed to believe myself on that. I blinked and it’s suddenly April, and I finally turned 21. Perhaps it is because time seemed to fly, however, that I feel emotionally unchanged since those fateful two days in January. For 24 hours, my high school community, students, staff and alumni alike, were rocked by two deaths.
Paralyzed. Shocked. Confused. Disoriented. You name it. It was this and more for everyone, myself included. What follows is my attempt at reflection toward the tragic events that revealed both the cruelty and beauty of our lives.
On Jan. 21, I was hanging on to my last few hours at home; I had to fly back to Boston for the new academic term the next morning, so there was very little beyond just relaxing, watching TV, and chatting that I wanted to do. That day, after dinner, I went to our living room to look through my emails and Facebook on my phone to check for any urgent business that couldn’t wait until the next day. Pretty standard stuff. I was about to turn off my phone when I see one Facebook post on my newsfeed that says:
Drew, please tell me you are okay…
It wasn’t the only one. There were several on Andrew Boldt’s Facebook page saying similar things. Curious to know what was going on, I immediately went online, only to see the first headline: Shooting at Purdue University. The story had broken nearly five or six hours earlier, and the fact that Drew was yet to be heard from was more than disconcerting; it was fear-inducing. After spending another 20 minutes seeking more information, I finally saw the fateful article that I was hoping not to find.
“The victim of the Purdue University shooting has been identified as Andrew Boldt…”
The next four hours or so are a blur to me, so what I say next is what my mother told me. I didn’t say a word. I turned pale and had a distant gaze. When asked what happened, all I could muster was to show my parents my phone. I didn’t cry, I didn’t question, and, as far as I can remember, I didn’t think.
I not only knew Drew, but I was good friends with him. Some of my most enjoyable memories from high school included many of the trips we took together going to these geeky Latin conventions around the country. We hadn’t talked much since he graduated in 2010, but that didn’t matter. I feel like we would have struck up a wonderful conversation the next time we crossed paths.
Even as I flew to Boston the next day, I wasn’t exactly there. I was still back in Milwaukee, trying to get myself to understand exactly what happened. By the time my flight took off, details of the exact nature of Drew’s death were revealed, but their gruesome, unfair, and brutal nature did little to change things for me — for better or worse.
Naturally, as an alumnus of my high school, Drew’s death certainly shocked everyone, especially we recent grads and teachers who had known him. In a high school community which more closely resembles a family, this hit hard. But no one was prepared for what was next.
When I get off the flight, I check my Facebook once more and I see another post, this time from Marquette High’s official Facebook page, announcing the death of Greg Von Rueden, a current freshman, who had lost his fight with cancer early that day. Jan. 22.
I didn’t know Greg. But this really hit hard. I flew to Boston with a good friend who saw that my expression had changed upon seeing my phone, and when he asked, “What’s up?” I started to choke up. All I could muster was:
“Another death from my high school.”
But that was it. I didn’t talk about it. I didn’t bring it up, even after many attempts from many of my Harvard friends to offer console and condolences. Some part of me thought that, eventually, this reality would hit me, that I would finally cry and let myself feel these losses.
But I didn’t. I felt like I was doing something wrong, like I hadn’t actually grieved. There are known stages of grief which we all supposedly transgress whenever we are exposed to tragedy. They are logical and quite accurate, yet I feel like I skipped steps or something. This wasn’t made any easier by the fact that I wasn’t there. I was a two-hour flight away, but which felt even farther, where I couldn’t be there with my friends, with my high school community to share in the pain of losing people too soon. Distance sucks.
A couple of weeks into the semester, a young woman who lived on my dorm floor was killed in a car crash coming back to campus from a Mock Trial competition. At a point in which I believed I had found distraction once more, all these feelings and reactions about Drew and Greg came rushing back. I found myself talking with the deceased girl’s friends when I realized:
I finally understood. I understood what was going on with me.
To me, it’s always futile to question why the bad happens in our lives. It has happened, and rather than dwell on questioning existential matters of why they did, there is more value and more to take from understanding that we must find the positives in everything. Easy to say, but how can you see any positives in the death of two promising young men, you may ask?
These men left their mark on this world, on the people with whom they interacted and loved in the short time they spent lighting up this earth. We cannot focus on the time that is not there. We must appreciate that Drew and Greg existed and blessed us all with their presence, their energy, and charisma. We must focus on how beautifully the greater Marquette High community came together to help each other, to hold each other, to tell the families of the two men that they are not alone.
I was never prouder to belong to such a family and to have said that I am a graduate of Marquette University High School, and I know that the sentiment was shared unanimously by all who call or called Marquette High home.
Here is the message I wrote before going to bed the day of Drew’s death. I want this to be my manner of giving my final respects to him and to Greg:
“Finding God in All Things” is a motto we hear often at Marquette High, and it is something which I now, more than ever, truly hold dear. God is indeed in all things, particularly and especially in the eternal lives of Andrew Boldt and Greg Von Rueden.
Today, on the campus of Purdue University, Andrew Boldt (MUHS ’10), perhaps one of the most unique, quirky, and charismatic people that I have ever known, was senselessly murdered, a fact which I still find hard to grasp and understand. One may become desensitized to the gun violence occurring on school campuses seemingly every month, yet nothing compares to the collective shock that runs through family and friends when the victim is someone you know, and knew very well. And yet, I find that the greatest way to honor Drew is not by questioning how he left too soon, but in remembering the impact that he had on our lives and will continue to do so.
I had the greatest pleasure to have shared three years of high school with Drew, of amazing memories doing the crazy shenanigans with Drew and others at State and National Latin Conventions, of great conversations of where the future was going to take us both. That last bit hurts to say, for obvious reasons; nonetheless, those conversations, and his contagious enthusiasm, are what I will keep in my heart as I seek out to live my life in the way that Drew will unfortunately not have the opportunity to.
I am honored to have known Andrew Boldt. Know that you may be gone in person, but you, and your impact, will never be forgotten.
Marquette High is truly a brotherhood of friends, no matter when we graduated. My most sincere and sympathetic prayers go out to Drew’s parents, his brother, and his family.
RIP Andrew Boldt.
Life is all about the people you share it with. Rest in peace, my friend.
(Espino, a 2011 graduate of Marquette University High School, Milwaukee, is studying economics at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. His home parish is St. Vincent de Paul, Milwaukee. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org)