Do you remember being 18? Preparing to graduate from high school feeling like the world is your oyster, believing you are prepared for anything that life will throw your way. It is a time I remember with such clarity in my life and I often think and reflect back, which makes me always think of that cliché statement … “if I knew then what I know now” how different I would have been. I try to be selfless and remember I am not the only one in pain from losing my son. There are grandparents, friends, cousins, uncles, aunties and so many more that miss and love Wylder James. I got a fresh perspective/reminder of this last week when I received an email from my brother Jason sharing his “personal statement” from his final class assignment as he prepares to graduate from high school next week. Can you imagine knowing and having been through such loss as losing your first nephew by the age of seventeen? What he writes is just beautiful, more lessons from a Warrior embedded on the heart of his Uncle Jason.
His final class project asked him to reflect on his four years of high school, what he learned and what he plans on doing in his future.
Lessons from a Warrior from a fresh perspective … my youngest brother Jason Thomas Irvine.
I have always felt very fortunate to have spent all four of my high school years at Point Loma High. My two older brothers and I attended parochial school from Kindergarten through eighth grade. Public school was quite different than what I was used to, but somehow I felt comfortable from the very first day I stepped on campus. Having grown up in the Point Loma community and playing Little League baseball each year , I already had many friends of my own including the friends of my two older brothers. They are also recent graduates of PLHS as is one of my older sisters. So, I was destined to become a Pointer and proud of it.
I would describe myself as a good student who understands the value of education and the importance of setting and achieving goals . I had the advantage of watching my brothers throughout their high school years which helped me realize that keeping focused and making good choices is not always easy to do but it is the right thing to do. If someone was asked to describe me I feel they would say that I am kind and respectful to everyone and modest about my accomplishments especially regarding athletics. I’ve made great friends and will have memories of some fun times these past four years.
I was prepared academically for high school but not for how important it was to manage my time between sports and studies. Freshman football was a huge time commitment and I soon learned how to balance my schoolwork and focus on my sport. I maintained good grades and enjoyed playing Baseball and Lacrosse as well. My Dad has always been a terrific role model for me providing advice and guidance whenever I needed it. He taught me to give 100% effort in everything I do no matter how small the task and never to quit when things get tough. He taught me that education was the key to my future and try to choose a career path that would make me happy to go to work each day as he is. My dad is a Captain for American Airlines and he loves his job. He has been my number one mentor and I hope one day to provide the same positive influence for my own children.
Up until last summer, I was considering a career in aviation, which I have always been interested in. Flying airplanes like my Dad seemed a natural direction to follow. Personal or professional flying will always be an option for me, however, a personal life experience caused me to stop and reconsider my future and how I can really make a difference. My little nephew Wylder James Laffoon passed away last July at age three. Wylder was born with an extremely rare disease called Niemann Pick Type A, a genetic metabolic liver storage disease for which there is no cure. In fact, very few people have even heard of neither it nor the many other rare diseases that some children are born with . We mostly hear of cancer, diabetes, autism, and so many others that affect so many. There are approximately 6,800 rare diseases , considered rare if fewer than 200,000 are diagnosed. I became interested in the National Organization of Rare Disorders , or NORD and in particular, the Niemann Pick Foundation.
Wylder fought very hard while he was sick and became known as “The Warrior”. He lived longer than anyone expected him to because of his fighting spirit and the constant loving care of his Mom and Dad. As our family gathered around my sister Shannon and her husband Steven, we all felt so helpless at how unfair and heartbreaking it is to lose a child so young. Something inside of me changed at Wylder’s memorial service at sea on Maui. After scattering his ashes off the back of the boat, Steven and all of the men in the family dove off into the water to accompany Wylder’s spirit . When I hit the water that was when I felt the need to do something so that other families wouldn’t have to feel this sad. Shannon has taught me how to make a difference. I am following her example of how to live in the moment and appreciate each and every moment we have. It’s the small and simple things that matter. It’s about loving someone so much and never forgetting the lessons they taught you. I can’t help Wylder, but I can find a way to to help kids just like him by learning as much as I can about how to create awareness of these diseases and find cures. I plan to become an advocate for rare disease creating awareness and raising funds for non-profit groups that can fund genetic research to one day cure diseases like Niemann Pick and too many others. At this time I’m not sure how I will accomplish my goal, but I am sure that as I continue my education I will head in the direction of philanthropy with Wylder in my thoughts. I’ll never forget him .
Ever since I can remember, I have watched and admired my Mom as she volunteers her time to many charities, especially Children’s Hospital. She has always told me about the importance of giving back to your community in whatever way you can. Not everyone has a lot of money to give, but you can always find some time. I joined her many times at different events and fundraisers while I was younger and knew early on how giving a part of yourself makes you feel good. My community involvement has been limited in recent years mostly to assisting at lacrosse clinics for the up and coming younger players in Point Loma. The important thing is to find your passion and to remember that it’s not always about you but how you treat others around you .
After Graduation, I plan to attend Questa College in San Luis Obispo and begin my college experience . My goal is to complete my General Education requirements and transition to a four-year university. At this time I am unsure of my degree choice, but do see Non Profit Management and Philanthropy in my educational plan. I feel prepared for college academically and ready to take on the responsibilities of living away from home. I do plan on working part time and managing my schedule so that I balance my time wisely.
Now that I am about to graduate, I have some advice for underclassmen and especially incoming freshmen. I would tell them to enter the freshman year putting forth effort immediately. Learning to manage time and balance academics and sports is extremely important early on. I would tell them to participate in activities and get involved with your class and ASB. High school is a time you will never forget so make it as memorable as you can. I am ready to take on the future now but have great memories of Point Loma High to look back on for years to come.
I am so proud of this personal statement from Jason. I was certainly not aware of the importance of paying it forward and philanthropy to the extent I do now at the age of 18, and he not only “gets it”, he plans to live his life fulfilling this because of Wylder James. I am so proud … so proud of Jason …. and so proud of Wylder. I am so sorry you had to lose your nephew Jason, but I am so glad he left such a mark on your heart forever. I cannot wait to see what you do in your future … I know it will be extra special because you love a WARRIOR! As I watch Jason graduate next week in his cap and gown, I will be thinking of his nephew walking by his side as he prepares for his next adventure in life with so much gratitude and strength, because of his nephew Wylder James. xoxo