A memorial to peace grows from bitter grief

Quilt: The creativity of Howard County students eases a deep sadness as two slain classmates are honored.

May 11, 2001|By Tanika White | By Tanika White,SUN STAFF

With every snip and subsequent stitch, healing was taking place.

And so by the time the students at Long Reach High School had finished the 9-foot-by-9-foot quilt that will hang in the school's most often-traveled hallway, smiles were replacing tears and a hopeful message was beginning to cloud the memories of a traumatic year.

The purple Peace Quilt unveiled yesterday in the school's auditorium is more than just beautiful and more than just a symbol.

The students who helped make it hope that the quilt will be a constant reminder of two classmates whose lives were lost this school year: 14-year-old Ashley Mason and 18-year-old Andre Corinaldi.

Mason, a new student at Long Reach, was found stabbed to death in November behind a Pizza Hut restaurant in Columbia. In January, Corinaldi, a senior, was shot at a birthday party at a Columbia hotel.

The loss of the students, one after another, rocked Long Reach High School.

For months after the deaths, students escaped to counselors' offices to find a safe place to cry, be angry, or to admit they were afraid, students and teachers said.

"This is the hardest year I've ever had in my 22 years of education," said counselor Donna Cook. "It touched me in a very deep place."

Cook, and the school's student peer mediators decided to do something to bring closure to the tragedies and let the lessons they brought live on.

For five months, Cook, the mediators and parent volunteers worked on the quilt, which displays characteristics of a peacemaker, such as "calm," "wise," "gentle," "friendly" and "patient."

During the school's lunch hours, the peer mediators sold patches of fabric to be included in the quilt for a quarter, and the buyers wrote messages on them with special markers.

"Keep strong, even in the stars," one patch reads.

Students, teachers, administrators, parents, custodians, cafeteria workers and even bus drivers bought patches. More than 500 people got involved.

When Crystal Mason, Ashley's mother, gazed up at it yesterday, her eyes glistened with tears.

"Purple was Ashley's favorite color," she said quietly.

Mason said she was touched that the students still remember her daughter. But she hoped they also learned something from her death.

"Hopefully, they'll look at that and think, `Hey, that could've been me.' Maybe they'll remember the tragedy and they'll do something different in their lives so the same thing won't happen to them," she said.

Andre Corinaldi's mother, Jennifer, and his sister, Nykeba, dabbed at their eyes during the presentation, crumpled tissues tightly clasped in their hands.

Although she appreciated the students' efforts, Jennifer Corinaldi said such an assembly was something no mother should ever have to sit through.

"I'm grateful that the children think of him in such a way," she said. "But this is an event I should not be attending."

Cook said the making of the quilt was "bittersweet." But she said it will ultimately make a difference.

And not just for those few who purchased a patch, or sewed a square, or inked a heartfelt message.

"When a tragedy occurs, the people that were most affected by it graduate and the immediate effects wear off," said junior Samantha McCoy, 16. "This quilt will be a memorial, a concrete reminder in the school."

Future freshmen will walk the same halls Ashley and Andre did, and see the quilt that hangs in their memory, she said.

And maybe they'll be inclined to be stewards of peace, too.

"I hope the peace that it represents will become contagious," said senior Candice Washington, 18. "And hopefully, we will take comfort in knowing that Ashley and Andre did not die in vain.

"Peace is who we are in our hearts," she said. "We are the peacemakers."

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