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Music by David Friedmann
Ryan Gordon 1986 – 2001

One of the joys of teaching at IDS is the relationships that we maintain with our alumni.  Every year when our students graduate, we all feel a great sense of pride in what they have accomplished.  But it is a pride tinged with nostalgia. We are imprinted with the uniqueness of each of our students, and at the moment of graduation, the realization that we are losing a part of our “family” leaves us feeling sad, yet fortunate, to have had shared the time together.  We are renewed when they return as IDS alumni and give us their latest news; we continue to celebrate their triumphs and share their losses.  And so it is that we are deeply saddened at the recent loss of Ryan Gordon.  Ryan came to IDS in second grade and attended school here until his graduation in 2001 and he was one of "ours".

As a musician, songs lyrics are an integral part of my thoughts and my classroom instruction.  During Ryan’s most recent hospitalization, the lyrics of one particular song from “The King and I  kept running through mymind.  “Getting to Know You” contains the line “…if you become a teacher, by your pupils you’ll be taught”.  I could not help thinking that Ryan had come into our world for the lessons that we were to learn from him.

Throughout his entire life, Ryan endured a myriad of medical procedures, many of which were painful and debilitating, yet he never allowed his physical disabilities to deter him from contributing, both to his classes and to other activities.  He drew upon the qualities to which many of us aspire – tenacity, courage, and compassion- to face each day with renewed enthusiasm and a desire to do the “right thing”.  Although some of Ryan’s time at IDS pre-dates my tenure, others were able to provide me with photographs and other memories of him.  Both the anecdotes and the photos capture the essence of the young man –the sincere smile, the kind eyes, the wisdom beyond his youth and the curious and creative spirit.  Ryan was what I refer to as an “old soul”; he was really in touch with the world, regardless of age, race or gender. In class, he laughed at my corny jokes and understood my out-of- date references.  In class, not once did Ryan ask for special treatment or exception because of his ailments.  All that, and a wonderful French accent – could anyone have asked for more?Ryan’s philanthropy and empathy for those less fortunate is well known and the causes for which he worked were many.  In the second grade while at IDS, he wrote a book about the trials and tribulations of a child with a physical ailment.  The book received many accolades, including one from Congresswoman Rosa De Lauro, and was printed and was used to produce a play of the same name.  Ryan delighted friends and family by memorizing Disney movies and making them into plays that he put on in the neighborhood.  He donated the proceeds of his book and his early thespian activities to Yale's Child Life Program.  Ryan spearheaded a book fair in his neighborhood that benefited the homeless shelter.  As a seventh and eighth grader, he held bake sales at IDS for Cystic Fibrosis.  At secondary school, Ryan’s sense of community and empathy for others did not wane.  He continued to accomplish the unexpected.  Produce a movie in French for his senior French class?  No problem.  Organize a charitable event?  It’s a snap!  Ryan’s energy seemed endless; his gentle demeanor belied a passionate and tenacious spirit that conveyed the lesson that nothing was impossible, that he could make whatever was the cause celebre happen, simply through hard work and a belief that his efforts would make things better.

As a senior at Kingswood Oxford, he was honored with the award for courage and perseverance.  His responsibility towards those less fortunate engendered the enthusiasm in others that was necessary to make his campaigns successful.  This, coupled with his long-time passion for hockey and his association with The Harford Wolf Pack hockey team, impelled him, knowing his death was imminent, to donate portions of his college fund to the Wolf Pack’s Community Foundation program and to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

It speaks volumes that, although he had not previously articulated his physical challenges to his secondary school community, in his senior class night speech, he broke from his tradition of silence regarding his medical history.  In addressing his student body, he chose to share details of the more difficult parts of his life about which he had never spoken. In revealing this history, Ryan wanted his peers to truly understand and learn the lessons of his experience; that life is ephemeral and for that reason one must live it fully, passionately and responsibly. That speech underscored his solid values; he not only expressed his thankfulness for the education that he had been given, for the remarkable and kind teachers he had, for his classmates, but also left the juniors with a piece of advice that demonstrated his hard-earned wisdom. “Believe me when I say that I wish I could have been one of the ones who spent 10 hours a day at school. Next year will be over in a heartbeat. Take advantage of every minute. Attend every school event that you can and never pass up an opportunity to spend time with your friends”.

Great lesson, great values, great person. Ryan, you were certainly an inspiring teacher. We shall miss you.

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