By Steven Juster
Londonderry High School held its eighth annual Day of Giving event on Friday, January 10th, 2014. The feature event at this assembly is the Pantene Beautiful Lengths hair donation. This year, a record 234 students, with a few staff and parents in the mix, participated in the simultaneous cut.
As student Rachel Larkin said to me, having seen her grandmother taken by cancer, she knew there were young girls at the hospital refusing treatment because they did not want to lose their hair. She and the other angels spent the morning taking that obstacle away.
Several students and alumni were participating for a second, third and fourth time. Often, alumni drop off their donations throughout the year, but many of them were able to be on the floor to cut in front of, and inspire, the full-school assembly, also open to parents and community members.
The cut itself is a spectacle to see, but it is the stories that the donor/angels tell me through the year, some of which I share that day, that brings out the humanity in the room.
Student Brittany Varney has never had her hair short – NEVER – long hair her entire life, yet there she was, on the floor.
Student Anna Tighe said “Ever since I was little, ever since I was little, I’ve wanted REALLY long hair, and now my hair is the longest it has ever been.” She was there on the floor this morning because, again in her words, “I can help one person.”
Student Tianna Federico loves her long hair and donated as a sophomore so her hair would be long for her prom this year, but there she was, “I am able to go to the prom, “ she said, “while there are girls sitting in hospitals with no hair and IVs in their arms.” Tianna is 18 weeks from her prom, but donated.
Rebecca Solomons, a student at the town kindergarten (Moose Hill) was on the floor. This was Rebecca’s first haircut. She wanted to cut it with her sister,senior Hannah Solomons, who also donated.
Student Tori Ackley is the only person who actually physically shuddered handing me her form. She has attempted in years past to donate. I have handed the form back to her, told her to really think about this. The last time we talked tears welled in her eyes, but she smiled her wonderful smile, and handed me her paperwork.
I am blessed to be in a position where I encounter young people who see past their own interests to do the greater good. No wonder I call them angels.
A special feature this year was Class of 2013 alum Myranda Brodsky, who had pledged to donate all of her hair as part of a fund-raising campaign for the American Cancer Society . She was able to present a check to them for $5,600. She chose to donate at LHS because she said she wanted to be among all these young women giving such a wonderful gift, and that it felt like “home”. We were honored to be spectators as she had her hair clippered close, to begin the next step of her journey, which is to raise awareness and support for breast cancer research. She hopes her grand gesture will bring about grand change.
This event would not happen without our team of professional stylists, who volunteer, many year after year, giving of their time to donate to making our angels beautiful, with a lot of skill and a lot of TLC. This year we had 23 stylists attend from area salons.
In 2011, we lost our angel, then sophomore Rebecca Tenney, suddenly to meningitis in September. She had already donated once, and had signed up to donate again that next year. After discussions about keeping an empty chair open for her, her friends filled it by donating in her place. Since then, someone, a friend or family member, has been here to fill her seat. This year, three of parents’ (Mark and Tammy) nieces came from Massachusetts to fill her seat. Her parents also attended.
Lastly, before the cut, three students stepped forward:
Meredith Byerly was there in honor of her grandmother, who died of ovarian cancer the day she was born. As she was dying, she had her health care worker put an X on the calendar to mark Meredith’s impending birth date. As Meredith said, “she really wanted to meet me”. But there is more. Her grandmother was a twin, and her twin sister came to Meredith’s important events, though she lived miles away, to make her feel loved. She also passed away from cancer, and Meredith knew it was time to give back.
Amina Dallahi, a nine year old whose brother attends the high school, was born with Downs Syndrome. She was diagnosed with leukemia when she was four years old, and from 4 to 6 underwent the transfusions and chemo and lost all her hair. She is a survivor, healthy, and now that her hair has grown to beautiful lengths, she came over from the elementary school to donate.
Senior Maddy Gerlisch came forward with Terri, a local worker at the Dunkin Donuts/ country store whom everyone in town knows. Terri is a cancer survivor who lost all her hair. Maddy works with her. Maddy called Terri, “my second mother,” and talked about how she “could not imagine her life without her.” Maddy cut in her honor.
Following an inspirational song, the cut occurred: family, friends and survivors cutting long ponytails, tears and smiles and hugs all around. Though snowing and cold outside, it was a beautiful morning at Londonderry High School, Londonderry, New Hampshire.