A New Honor

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality, Yesterday's Memories

Tonight, I had the honor of presenting the first Stephen Bernier “Super Steve” award at the Denison High School’s annual Band Banquet. When I was first asked three weeks ago if I would be interested in making the presentation, I wasn’t sure if I could find the right words. But, because the band leadership was so keen on creating this new award and helping to keep Steve’s memory alive, I accepted the invitation and the challenge. I was given a list of the criteria used for determining who would win the award, and I used that as the basis for my speech. Two weeks later I had my first draft written, and earlier this week I made the final edits. After an exhausting series of run-throughs (and I do mean exhausting — I was up very, very late last night practicing), I felt I was ready.

The band had done all of the voting on who would receive this award. I had no hand in the decision process; all I did was approve their creating the award in the first place. I did not even know who was to receive it until I was told at the banquet tonight. When I was given the recipient’s name I was pleasantly surprised; it turned out to be one of Steve’s best friends and a fellow section leader.

When I was called up to make the presentation, I ran through the speech almost exactly as I had written it; but, I found myself using contractions and blending my sentences together a little bit during the delivery, and I even ad-libbed in a piece at the very end before I announced the recipient’s name. By all accounts, even with those minor differences I nailed the speech — there was nothing but positive comments, handshakes, and hugs afterward. In talking with several people at the banquet, I found they were interested in getting a copy of the speech; so, I promised I would post it here as soon as possible.

Well, here it is. This is the original text I had planned to speak; at the end, I will include the “ad-libbing” I did on the fly.

Good evening.

When Brandon (Head Drum Major Brandon Fisher) asked me a few weeks ago if I would make this presentation, I was very hesitant. I asked myself, “How could I possibly come up with words that were fitting and appropriate for such an honor?” I accepted his offer, still unsure of exactly what I was going to say. But, I knew that if I could walk into the band hall the afternoon after Steve’s accident and stand in that room full of people – in front of many of you – totally unprepared, and somehow manage to say something that was halfway intelligent, then having a few weeks’ notice would be more than enough time for me to find something to talk about tonight.

And, I have.

This award – the first of its kind, and hopefully not the last – recognizes a band member who, according to his or her peers, has displayed several of the qualities that our son lived every day: pride for band, integrity, leadership, and selflessness. I cannot think of a better time or place to present it, for this is one of the last times everyone in this band – Steve’s last band – will be together. And since it’s the first of its kind, I hope you don’t mind me taking a couple of minutes to talk about those qualities as they applied to Steve.

To say that Steve was proud to be in the band is a gross understatement. If there was one thing he absolutely loved heart and soul, it was playing in the band. He practiced whenever he seemed to get a free minute, and when he didn’t have time to play because of schoolwork he would still listen to band music. When he found a sheet music company that posted recordings online, ohh, it was like he’d reached Nirvana. The only down side to that was when he liked a particular piece he would play it over… and over… and over, to the point where I was ready to rip the speakers off his computer. But, he would have an expression on his face while he tapped along with the tune – a pleased, excited, happy look – that told me he was absorbed into the music, and that was something I didn’t dare try to take away from him. He was always critical of his own performances, and never stopped trying to improve himself and be a better band member. There were numerous times he’d run me out of my office so he could work on his SmartMusic lessons, and while it all sounded perfect to me, he would sometimes take an hour or more before he was satisfied with his work. We recognized his great devotion to music by having the image of a trumpet engraved on his headstone, and if you haven’t seen it I invite you to pay a visit to the cemetery and have a look. Hopefully it will make you smile the way it does for me every time I go there.

What comes to mind when you hear the word “integrity”? Most people think of things like honesty and truthfulness. It also means “to be consistent in one’s actions”, and when a person “has integrity” they are acting according to their beliefs. In other words, they always do what they say they’re going to do. Did you ever know Steve to not be that way? Around us he was no different – when he said he was going to do something, by golly he did, and Lord help you if you got in his way. He would frequently say his goals after high school were to attend Harvard, go into politics, and one day rule the world. He had started on a plan to reach them, too. First he was working to graduate at the top of his class, and he crammed his schedule with AP courses in his effort to get there. He even did something I never dreamed of doing – he actually studied for the PSAT. He never backed down from his plans, either; a few weeks after the funeral, when we got the results from the AP exams he took that spring, we found he had listed only one college to release his scores to – Harvard. Would he have ruled the world one day? We can only imagine…

For Steve, leadership came somewhat naturally to him. He always wanted to lead, starting with leading his brother around the house and deciding what they were going to play. As he got older, he tried his hand at leading in other ways. Did any of you know that he raised and showed goats in 4-H for five years? Well, he did, and one year he stepped up and became president of the Livestock Club. We were all very proud of his accomplishment, and he took his new title to heart. For one of the first meetings after he became president, he went through all the steps of preparing for it – he called all of the members to remind them of the meeting, he prepared an agenda, assembled his materials, and was ready to go…unfortunately, no one else showed up. You could tell he was hurt, but he didn’t let setbacks like that bother him for long…they just made him try harder. Many of you know how hard he worked to become a section leader, and when he learned he had been selected, it was one of the happiest times I’d ever seen him. He threw everything into preparing to be his best, too…attending the leadership clinics, organizing the section party at the lake, even buying the pizza and drinks for it out of his own pocket. I have no doubt he would have been an awesome section leader for you this past year.

Last but not least is selflessness. Steve often would set his own needs and feelings aside to focus on the needs of others. Sometimes it was from a sense of duty: one of his AP classes had a cookout, and somehow he ended up doing the cooking…he wouldn’t sit down to eat until he made sure everyone else was taken care of. Sometimes, it was from his sense of wanting to do the right thing: he once scolded a group of kids on the school bus because they were distracting the driver and could have caused an accident. And sometimes, it was because he was looking out for his friends: toward the end of his last year in school he frequently missed his bus home. It wasn’t until several weeks after the funeral that we learned why. Among the many cards, letters, and messages we received was this: “(I) don’t know if you knew it but Stephen would stay after school outside the band hall with my daughter until I got there to pick her up each day for about the last 2 months or so of school, even if I was running late and didn’t get there until around 4 or 4:15.” I won’t name names here because I don’t want to embarrass anyone, but I’m sure some of you know who the girl was. That note went on to say: “I’m sorry we didn’t get the chance to know him because she really liked him a lot. And from how the other kids talked about him he must have been a special guy.”

Yes, he was.

It seems only fitting that someone like him is remembered and honored in the many ways you have done so throughout this school year. And tonight, we add one more honor to that list with this award created and given in his name.

[In my mind, this award should be given to all of you, because all of you have been super. Please, give yourselves a hand! (applause) But, just like the words I remember from an old movie, “there can be only one”], And so, it is now my honor, and great pleasure to present [the first-ever “Super Steve” Award] to Alex Tucker.

Alex then ran up on stage and gave me a bear hug, crying his eyes out and saying something I could not quite understand through all the tears. I hugged him back and told him everything was okay. He finally slowed down enough to accept his plaque from me, shook my hand, and returned to his seat. I then closed by simply saying “Thank you” and left the stage, shaking Brandon’s hand along the way.

Congratulations, Alex. I am sure Steve would have been very honored and proud to have you as the first recipient of this award. I know I am.

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This entry was posted on Saturday, May 14th, 2011 at 11:30 pm and is filed under Today's Reality, Yesterday's Memories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 comments so far

Beverly Turner

Super job, Mike! A night that they will all remember for years to come! I am so very proud of you for doing this. Steve would have loved it!

May 15th, 2011 at 7:11 am
Deneen Ansley

This is a great speech Mike, and I think your instincts were right on to ad-lib the piece at the end. The thing were you were putting sentences together and combining words to make contractions, well, those are the elements that make a speech not sound “read” but “delivered”. Your brain took it on as natural speaking.

I don’t know HOW you managed to deliver that without breaking down, but I would say that it is a miracle – because I cry just from reading it. If I’d actually been there to hear it, I’d have boo-hooed like Alex, I’m sure. You showed savvy by practicing it so much because that helps one NOT to break down during the actual delivery, and helps one to work through all of the emotions that come up and process them out. When I’ve done very personal, performance poetry, I’ve done the same; often pacing the floor for hours, tears rolling freely down my cheeks and sobbing.

Where ever Steve’s spirit lives, it’s connection with you, which I believe still exists’ls efforts, and has been very well pleased – feeling blessed in a way that none of us still here can truly comprehend.

I’m proud of you – – and I love you!

May 15th, 2011 at 8:35 am

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