Emily Park graduated as valedictorian from Foothill in June. She is a first-year student at Wellesley College in Boston and posted this open letter to the late-Chris Prewitt, a former Foothill teacher who was killed Sunday morning while jogging. She granted permission to republish her letter here.
*This is about Mr. Prewitt, how he helped me become the person I am today, his death, and the legacy he left behind. If this topic has the potential to make you uncomfortable, feel free to not read. Or don’t read because it’s a wall of text. Your choice.
Written on a blog directed to Wellesley College prospective students:
About two years ago, I was given a sign language name. In sign language, it becomes pretty cumbersome to spell individual letters in someone’s name over and over again, especially if they have a long name. Instead, they’ll come up with some sign language symbol as a way to refer to you, and that symbol becomes your identity. You never choose your own name. After asking what he thought my name should be, he thought for a little bit, and formed his hands into the sign language letter “E”, for Emily, before rolling around his knuckles and moving his hands left and right, as though playing a piano with a semi-closed fist.
The man who gave me my sign language name was Mr. Chris Prewitt, and his sign language name is created by creating the sign language letter “C” with your hands (pretty simple, just roll your hands into a “c”-looking shape) and rotating the hands upward a few times at chest height. The sign, when done with a flat palm, means “happy”. It makes sense, because that’s who Mr. Prewitt was. When I picture him I see a goofy grin and I hear a heart-filled laugh. His good mood was not only relentless, it was contagious. The man walks into the room all happy to talk about health at 1:30 PM, when you just want to go home, and you can’t help but be the slightest bit mystified, and amused, that someone could be that… bright… as in full of light.
Mr. Prewitt died this morning when he was hit by a reckless driver as he was jogging down the bike lane. So what? Why am I sharing this with Tumblr, with prospective students who couldn’t care less, when I should be studying for my Neuro midterm tomorrow?
I want to share this with you guys because Mr. Prewitt is one of the big reasons for why I currently go to Wellesley College, or rather, how I got in. Not only was the man my Health/Geography teacher in the 9th grade, he was also the adviser for KIWIN’s, a community service club I helped start on my high school campus. When I was in the 11th grade, I became president of that club, and it was one of the hardest things I ever had to do in my high school career. However, no matter what problems and complications I had, Mr. Prewitt was always there to help me out with that grin of his. I asked him to be a chaperone for the club’s first off-campus event (WHICH IS THE MOST FRUSTRATING THING TO DO FOR A PUBLIC HIGH SCHOOL), and almost without hesitation he said he would do it. Mind you, we had never done this before, we had no idea what was going to happen, what would be expected of us, nothing, but Mr. Prewitt was there. He was there for every form, and for every bureaucratic process, and for every complication. He made my life much more manageable and much more sane that year.
In my senior year, I asked him to write my college recommendation letter, I asked him to write scholarship recommendation letters, and every time, he gave that same grin and that same resounding “Of course”. On my college applications I wrote about all of my accomplishments with KIWIN’s, I submitted these glowing teacher recommendations, I lauded my own leadership skills, and behind all of those great college application-padding things were a HUGE number of people who supported me and made all of it possible. Mr. Prewitt was one of these people.
Guys, it’s so SO easy during the college application process to get caught up in all the things you’ve done in high school. And rightly so, because you’ve had to dwell on it for months and months, and because you’re all beautiful people who have accomplished so much, but it’s important to remember, every once in a while, the people who made it all possible. I got into Wellesley, but it wasn’t just because of me, it was because of my family, my friends, my teachers, my advisers, my classmates. The Mr. Prewitts in life are what help you grow, what help you get into college. His support, and his letter of recommendation unlocked Wellesley College and its infinite door of opportunity for me. He helped give me a better future and also made me a better person.
And so, here I give to him what he gave to me. People are divisive about what happens after life, and I don’t want to be insensitive, but if there’s anyway I could write a recommendation for Mr. Prewitt to enter heaven, or whatever he believes is the great, fantastic adventure after life, it would look something like this:
(Written in the style of the college recommendation he wrote for me 10/31/12)
To Whom it May Concern,
I have known Mr. Prewitt for about five years now in the capacity as a teacher, a mentor, and adviser. Mr. Prewitt was my Geography, Health, and World History teacher when I was a freshman, was the advisor for the community service club KIWIN’s when it first started during 2010-2012, and most recently served Ventura Unified School District as vice principal of Deanza Academy for Technology and the Arts during the years 2012-2014. Mr. Prewitt is a naturally and inherently good person, and sets the bar high for any man trying to enter heaven in the future. Mr. Prewitt has always seemed this way, bringing joy and light to those around him, being a friend to all, and having a sense of humor that alleviates any bad thing that has ever happened to anyone.
During Foothill’s first KIWIN’s District Convention, I was given the unique opportunity to see Mr. Prewitt interact with his family. The looks Mr. Prewitt gave his wife and his daughter were so filled with love, I almost felt as though I was intruding on a private, intimate moment. But that’s who Mr. Prewitt is; his love of life is the same as his love for his family- he wears it loudly and proudly.
If that’s not enough, Mr. Prewitt coached water polo at Buena High School, inspiring his team everyday, and if that’s not enough, he also spent his free time supporting Schools for Salone, a cause devoted to building stable schools and curriculum in Sierra Leone, Africa.
Maybe it’s enough to say that Mr. Prewitt was a teacher, someone who intentionally worked with 9th graders, and tried to get them to learn something, all with a smile on his face, for an amount that was probably much less than he deserved. Maybe it’s enough to say that Mr. Prewitt devoted his life to one of life’s most selfless careers: a career that works for the betterment of next generation’s future. Maybe it’s enough to say that he did all of this even though he only had 50% of normal hearing capacity. Maybe it’s enough to say that the previous fact was so inconsequential in this man’s life, people would normally forget about it shortly after meeting him. Maybe it’s enough to say that I only knew this one, tiny, minuscule slice of this man, of his accomplishments, of his life, and that I have this much to say about him.
There is one thing I know for sure, Mr. Prewitt will contribute far more to heaven than he will ever take, because Mr. Prewitt contributed far more to this earth than he ever took. I know this because of the legacy he’s left behind with me, with my family, with his coworkers, with my old school, and with all of my schoolmates’ who are currently grieving over his loss.
He once said that he would be honored if he could raise his daughter to be more like me, but my dream is to have the work ethic, the positivity, the pure kindness, the leadership skills, and the effect on people that Mr. Prewitt had while he was living. So really, he was just wishing for what was already true. He was undoubtedly one of the greatest role models his young daughter could ever have- that anyone could ever have. So it is, with a heavy, heavy heart, Mr. Prewitt is leaving life, our world, and our community, and with pride and pleasure that I write this letter of recommendation. In the too-short time that was his life , Chris Prewitt has directly contributed to changing me, and many others, for the better.
Rest in peace, Mr. Prewitt. I miss you.