A tide of pink crested the campus last Friday, as more than 2500 people joined the Memorial Service for Academy teacher Melissa Jenkins. Across Vermont and around the world, the wearing of pink represented an expression of love for this wonderful young woman who touched so many lives.
Walking up the sidewalk to the Alumni Memorial Gym entrance on Friday, March 30, it was apparent that this was not a usual Academy campus gathering. First, everyone was in pink (and not Academy green and white)—even men were wearing pink button-down shirts or pink neckties. Then there were the hundreds upon hundreds of luminaria that lined the curb, each with a heartfelt message addressed to “Ms. Jenkins” or “Coach.”
One beautifully lettered bag bore the 23rd Psalm: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”
On this day, our community was walking in the shadow of death and everyone, from freshman dorm students to the Headmaster, was shaken. On Sunday evening, Melissa Jenkins, a beloved science teacher and basketball coach, was reported missing. On Monday evening, State Police confirmed the worst possible outcome—she had lost her life at the hands of another.
The call went out that on Friday there would be a Memorial Service and everyone should wear pink, Ms. Jenkins’ favorite color. That morning, the entire town of St. Johnsbury was painted pink—a local business tied pink balloons at every store entrance and on every post in the Main Street area. Railings were wrapped in pink ribbons. Stores plastered their window displays with pink. Through the miracle of Facebook, people around the country and around the world heard the call and wore pink in honor of Ms. Jenkins.
Inside the gym, other colors emerged as well—thousands of multi-colored origami cranes hung in a silent tribute to love, hope, peace, and healing. Headmaster Tom Lovett said that the cranes had been folded throughout the week by students, faculty, and staff.
Thousands of paper cranes made a beautiful curtain of color at the Memorial Ceremony.
Michael Donovan, Ms. Jenkins’ mentor in the science department, spoke of her excitement after teaching her first class—a class that Donovan feared might be a disaster because it was made up of “reluctant” students. “Melissa faced that challenge without knowing it was a challenge. She loved those students right from the start,” he said.
It was a sentiment that was echoed throughout the service—how much Ms. Jenkins loved her family, her community, and her students. And also how much she was loved in return.
Teacher and fellow dorm proctor Michelle Cote joked, “How many times can one teacher be asked out to the prom?”
One very touching tribute came from Shane LaCroix ’12, a member of Ms. Jenkins’ advisee group, and he was clearly very attached to his mentor.
LaCroix spoke of how instrumental Ms. Jenkins had been in the college application process: “Over the last two years, she has been there for me in helping me to choose my colleges and assisting me in the application process. I have yet to make my final decision about where I’m going, but when I do, I know she will have influenced that, as well as helping me over these next few weeks make the right decision.”
He went on to say that he has a plan for dealing with his grief, which includes visiting Ms. Jenkins’ son, Ty, and writing her a letter. “I know she’s watching over me now and listening to me speak. And to be honest, the main reason I’m speaking right now is to try and connect with her.”
Mr. Lovett had spoken multiple times with the student body throughout the week, as they tried to process their grief. He repeated his message at the Memorial Service, where it rang loud and clear through tears and distress: “As we leave this place today, let’s remember Melissa’s challenge: To love those the most who need us the most. And to know without a doubt that despite the apparent temporary victories of tragedy, injustice, violence, death and loss, in the end love is stronger than all those evils combined. In the end, love does win.”
A major fundraising effort, the Melissa Jenkins Memorial Trust, is underway in St. Johnsbury to benefit Ms. Jenkins’ two-year-old son Ty. To donate, you can do so at the Academy Website: CLICK HERE.