For Deanna Byrne: Teacher, Mentor, & Friend

First and foremost, In Loco Politico would like to express our most sincere and deepest condolences to the Byrne family. May you find peace and calm after this heavy storm.

This past weekend was much like any other. I went to work Saturday morning after watching the rap group NWA’s biopic “Straight Outta Compton” with my good friends the night before. As I was relaxing in my room Sunday afternoon after a long week of work, my sister walked into my room and delivered some devastating news. She informed me that my sophomore year Honors English teacher Mrs. Deanna Byrne had passed away that weekend. At first, I simply refused to believe it; I thought it was some sort of cruel joke being pulled on me. As per usual, I logged in to both Twitter and Facebook to find news to either confirm or (hopefully) denounce these rumors. With the amount of posts I saw of people expressing their sadness and shock at her passing, the truth had become inevitable: Deanna had really left us. I was in utter disbelief. Though I stood up at the moment my sister told me, I now found myself sprawled on my bed, shaking, with my mind racing at a hundred miles a minute. Even then, Deanna’s passing still felt surreal the rest of the evening. It didn’t really hit me until the following day when I attended a candlelight vigil at my old high school that was organized by some of her former students. Seeing the crowd of mourning students and solemn colleagues all holding candles in front on a table with pictures of her made the reality of the situation finally set in.

A picture of the table at Deanna's vigil.
A picture of the table at Deanna’s vigil.
A portion of the vigil's attendees.
A portion of the vigil’s attendees.

It is said that a good teacher is much like the candles we held in our hands that night: they consume themselves to help light the way for others. Deanna did just that. She dedicated her life to brightening the lives of others. She was one of the few remaining teachers that truly cared about the success and personal well-being of every single one of her students. Whenever a student seemed down on their luck, or was doing poorly in her class, Deanna made sure to talk to that student, find out what’s wrong, and try to do everything in her power to help them succeed. She went above and beyond her duties as a teacher, thus gaining the title of mentor, role model, and close friend to many of her current and former students.

Deanna’s kindness and compassion was not confined to the classroom. She was a prominent member of the Youth Focus Africa Foundation (YOFAFO), “a Uganda based NGO working on the ground to empower Uganda’s next generation”. For the past thirteen years, she has been making a positive impact for global community by travelling to Uganda every summer with a select group of students. Her and her students would help build schools and houses in rural areas that had none. They would also distribute donated goods such as clothing, toiletries, and toys to the villagers.   While I myself never got the opportunity to travel to Uganda with Deanna, I had some friends that did do so. They told me it was easily one of the best experiences they have ever had, saying it gave them a completely different perspective of life. Not only did she help the locals by providing them with access to essential services, but she also helped expand the horizons of the students she took by introducing them to a different culture.

Deanna (center) with the 2015 group.
Deanna (center) with the 2015 group.
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Deanna with former students Valerie, Katelyn, and Cheyenne in a Ugandan airport.

Deanna also expanded my own world view through the books we read and the discussions we had in her class. We read and discussed books and poems from a wide variety of cultures and beliefs. To name a few, we read Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, T.C. Boyle’s The Tortilla Curtain, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, and Ishmael Beah’s Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. Through her help, my love affair with literature took off and I haven’t looked back since.

I still vividly remember one of the activities we did while covering Frankenstein. The class became a court room for the duration of the activity, with one group of students being the prosecution, another group being the defense team for Dr. Frankenstein, and the remaining students being the jury. I remember being one of the lead prosecutors accusing Dr. Frankenstein of neglecting his own creation, thus causing it to go on a murderous rampage. Both sides deliberated like in an actual court room, helping us gain a deeper understanding on the themes and topics of the novel.

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Deanna's colleagues and friends expressing their disbelief and grief at her passing.
Deanna’s colleagues and friends expressing their disbelief and grief at her passing.

Deanna’s compassion and care for others is truly inspiring. Whether it was a student, a fellow teacher, or an impoverished child from the third-world, Deanna treated them all with the same respect and compassion. She never did this for want of material wealth, nor did she do it for recognition. Rather, she did it out of the genuine kindness of her heart.

Deanna playing catch with one of the children.
Deanna playing catch with one of the children in Uganda.

Death is never an easy issue to deal with. It is always around the corner, announcing its presence when we least expect it. It often seems unfair because it takes good people away from us in such an abrupt and unjust manner. However, we must accept that it is a natural part of life, albeit a very somber part of it. But we must not roll in anguish and let it beat us. We have to celebrate the life and existence of that person, because that’s what they would have wanted. We have to live for them and do well for others in their honor. Deanna’s passing reminds us that everyone is fighting a secret battle on the inside which is not always visible, some fighting bigger battles than others. So we must treat all fellow human beings with love and compassion, because one never knows who might really need it. While she may no longer be physically with us, Deanna will live on in our memories and in our actions, hopefully helping us create a better future for our fellow human beings throughout the world.

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One thought on “For Deanna Byrne: Teacher, Mentor, & Friend

  1. Deanna was a student of mine at Mercy and remained a friend throughout her life. She was an amazing woman who cared so much for others. She loved teaching and her times in Africa. Her true loves were her husband Chris and children Jennifer and Brendan. My heart is broken but she is at peace and has left a powerful legacy.

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