Thursday, October 22, 2009

Death of an Outsider

This headline appeared in today's Sacramento Bee:

Slain Student Was Gentle, Sometimes a Target, Dad Says

On Wednesday afternoon, Scott Gregory Hawkins, 23 and a transfer junior at Sacramento State, was killed in his dorm room. He had Aspergers, that "sometimes made him a target of bullies," according to the article. The Bee continues:

"He liked to talk on and on about his favorite subjects, especially history," his father said. "And he knew an amazing array of facts about Roman armies and World War I and World War II.

"And he hoped to specialize up there in Middle Eastern studies and Middle Eastern history. He liked (Sacramento State's) history program better than any other schools."

Again, according to his father:

"He loved that campus. He was extremely happy there. This is actually the happiest we've ever seen him in his whole life. He was just thrilled to get in there, to get into the new dorm there.

"He was just coming into himself, he was just becoming a really great person."

This particular story really hit me hard. Mental illness makes outsiders of all of us. Our odd behavior and social awkwardness virtually guarantees we won't be sitting at the table with the cool kids. Quite the contrary, we're the butt of everyone's jokes and fair game for the school bullies.

I'm sure Scott had far more challenges making it through a day at school than I ever had, but it was very easy for me to identify with him. Like Scott, I too was a history buff. Back in junior high, when others were talking about stupid junior high things, I would much rather talk about how Hannibal used his Numidian light cavalry to great effect at the battle of Cannae.

Only I had no one to talk to.

I was shy, socially awkward, nerdy with glasses, skinny, and the smallest kid in my class. Whatever made Lee order Pickett to lead a suicide charge up Cemetary Ridge into the teeth of Union artillery at Gettysburgh? I used to wonder.

Getting on the school bus everyday was kinda like that for me. I never stood a chance.

History did a lot for me. It helped me think expansively and speculatively. It got my mind oriented to all the "what ifs." It got me interested in politics, the arts, philosophy, literature, scientific discovery, invention. It exposed me to great individuals and extraordinary achievement. It inspired me. It uplifted me. It connected me.

I may have been an outsider, but my inner world was deep and rich. I can only imagine that is what it must have been like for Scott, as well. His parents drove him to college, so he could realize his dreams. But Scott was an outsider, a target for bullies.

As I said, this story really hit me hard.


Loretta said...

This is heartbreaking. This young man with so much don't give specific details of his death, but it sounds as if he was killed just because he was a little different, not one of the "cool" kids? I am so sad for his family. What a waste, what a terrible loss.

John McManamy said...

Hi, Loretta. With your help we can keep Scott's memory alive. The fact that Scott was murdered is an outrage. The prospect of Scott being forgotten is a tragedy of equal dimension.