St. Paul's graduates remember a friend Life of Alec Schweizer recalled as 59 seniors receive their diplomas

June 07, 1998|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

At yesterday's graduation at St. Paul's School, there was a painful absence among the Class of 1998's 59 seniors: Alexander "Alec" Schweizer, a star lacrosse player whose suicide in April devastated this close-knit community.

On a day of celebration at the private school in Brooklandville, Baltimore County, time was made to remember Schweizer, a 19-year-old youth described by his father, Tim Schweizer, as a free spirit and "the most happy-go-lucky kid in the school."

Since April, Schweizer and his wife, Barbara, have set up three philanthropic funds in memory of their youngest son. Yesterday, they presented a key chain with a St. Christopher's medal to each of his classmates in a chapel ceremony before the outdoor graduation procession.

The medal carries with it good wishes on their life's journeys "wherever they go," said Schweizer. St. Christopher is the patron saint of safe travel.

"Alec would have loved to be here today, and in an important sense he is," Schweizer told the somber assembly of white-jacketed seniors. He concluded his statement by referring his son's number on the athletic field: "No. 27 is still around, making us smile."

He received a standing ovation.

Schweizer said later he hoped the chapel service would help heal the wounds left by his son's death. "It's to say, 'Alec is here. Let's move on,' " he said. "It's never going to close for us, but these kids need to bring it to closure."

The headmaster of St. Paul's, Robert W. Hallett, presented the diploma and Bible intended for Alec Schweizer, an honor student headed for lacrosse powerhouse Syracuse University in New York, to his father.

Throughout the spring, students took other steps to honor the spirit of their friend. At last month's championship game against Gilman School, teammates wore T-shirts with his picture under their uniforms.

With tears welling up, Schweizer said a line written by his son was printed on the T-shirts: "How hard would you play today if you knew you could not play tomorrow?"

Surrounded by cards from well-wishers in his office overlooking the harbor at BT Alex. Brown Inc., where he is head of retail brokerage, Schweizer, a vigorous former Marine and Vietnam veteran, expressed anguish last week that he would not see his son start college and play lacrosse next season.

He said that during the last week of Alec's life, they had discussed family plans to fly to Syracuse games in a private jet he had purchased.

Puzzling over his son's reason for taking his life when he appeared to friends and family to be his usual gregarious self and looking forward to the future, he offered one explanation: "It may have been a one-minute firestorm."

But, he added, "Nobody can figure it out."

Because Alec suffered from what a doctor diagnosed as a mild case of depression, one fund established by the Schweizers goes to John Hopkins Medicine to care for patients and families affected by depression.

"We wanted to see if they can figure this thing out," said Schweizer, referring to treatment for depression.

The family has arranged for two other memorial funds: one at St. Paul's School, the other St. Thomas Church in Owings Mills, where Alec, an acolyte, was baptized and buried.

The St. Paul's fund, the Alec Schweizer Endowment for the Advancement of Teaching and Coaching, will enhance the pay of teachers who also coach sports. "The people who affected Alec the most were his teachers and coaches," said his father.

Hallett said the fund was a fitting legacy. "The faculty is the lifeblood of the school. They make this place tick."

At yesterday's chapel service, Schweizer told the boys in his son's class they would always be welcome at the Schweizer home.

Pub Date: 6/07/98

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