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April 4, 2012

MCDONALD: Gone too soon

NEW WASHINGTON — When I heard the news that Jillian Charlet, a former standout basketball player from New Washington High School had passed away in a tragic accident, time almost stood still. At 22 years of age, Jillian had her life in front of her and was excited, as her former coach Terry White said upon learning for her death, about the next phase of her life.

Terry and I are fellow teachers at New Washington High School. Jillian was my student and Terry’s student and player. He saw her more recently than I did, but I could see in her a young woman who wanted to make a mark on the world. Jillian was a leader. She had a personality that drew people to her. She was smart and she was very funny.  

I remember her sitting in my history or government or econ class and when I was trying to make a serious point, she could shoot me a look that would make me crack up. That’s all it would take and the room would be in laughter. One time I was teaching and looked up to see Jillian staring me down with a pair of Cats Eye contact lenses in her eyes and I lost it. That was Jillian.

William Wallace, the Scottish knight who led a resistance to the English military occupation of Scotland during significant periods of the Wars of Scottish Independence  said, “Every man dies, not every man really lives.” Jillian lived life to the fullest and enjoyed her friends immensely.  

It’s easier to accept when I read the paper and learn that one of my classmates from 40 years ago has passed away. It’s sad but in your 50s you begin to accept your own mortality. It is unfathomable when a young person, especially a young person of talent and ambition, leaves this earthly home too soon. It gnaws at us and tears us apart. We question why.  

Terry White said that she was looking forward to military service or the Peace Corps after college. I could see her in either of those roles. Jillian had leadership and caring inside of her. Both of those career choices are selfless choices in serving others.

I wish to send my personal condolences to her family, her friends [many of whom I taught] and pray that they find the strength to grieve this terrible loss. I cannot imagine the pain her family is feeling. I still cannot wrap my mind around the fact that she has left us. You sent a wonderful young woman to my classroom and I will not soon forget her.

There are two quotes that remind me of Jillian. One is from Charles Darwin and the other from Ralph Waldo Emerson. Darwin said, “a person who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.” Jillian did not waste her time; she was learning the value of life through her family, friends, education and her career choice. Emerson said, “All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.”

Jillian lived life to the fullest and was ready to begin serving and giving back. In Shakespeare’s play “Romeo and Juliet” there is a phrase that I think of when someone passes away.

“When he shall die, take him and cut him out in little stars and he will make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night and pay no worship to the garish sun.”

We will look to the stars and find Jillian there and her friends will fall in love with night.

Tim McDonald is a teacher at New Washington High School and former weekly columnist for the News and Tribune.

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