My grandson Devon’s school, Los Altos Elementary, refurbished their library with dinosaurs, which he loved, and named it in his honor. This is the speech that I wrote for the dedication:
Good Afternoon. I’m Jan Williams and I am Devon’s Oma. That’s German for Grandma. I don’t usually give speeches, so you will have to forgive me if I’m a little bit nervous. Whenever Devon was nervous, or the center of attention or just didn’t know what to say, he would always say, “Monkey.” I don’t know why that works, but it seems to defuse tension somehow. Monkeys are interesting and funny and an image that can bring a smile to your face. Just like Devon.
When Devon was quite small I was studying anthropology at Whittier College. I would take him with me to the zoo to do field research and he would happily watch lemurs or gibbons or squirrel monkeys for hours while I took notes. Primates became his first passion, and fed his thirst to know. You see Devon wanted to know everything. At first that was everything about monkeys, but that expanded and grew until it became a need to know everything about absolutely every subject that crossed his path. He was the master of questions, and every answer would spawn 3 or 4 more questions until at last I was forced to say, “Well, I don’t know the answer to that one. I’ll have to look it up.” Baseball, early humans, dinosaurs, the stars and planets, insects, ancient Egypt, crab fishing in Alaska – there wasn’t anything that Devon didn’t want to know about. That’s why there are so many books in Devon’s collection that deal with science, or the habits of animals, or Roman history. He wanted all the answers and he wanted them to make sense. Sometimes when he was given a piece of what he felt was an odd or dubious fact he would turn around with a skeptical look and ask another adult, “Is that true?” When assured that it was he would digest the information for a while. Then he would say, “Weird!” and move on to the next question.
Since Devon loved to learn, he also loved school. In fact, he is the only child I ever met who used to count the days until summer vacation was over. He was in a hurry to get back to his friends, and his teachers and his quest to learn. And he blossomed here. You can be proud of the learning environment that you have provided and the wonderful dedicated staff that has put their heart and soul into making sure each child is educated and is able to fulfill his or her potential. I work at a college, so I see students who are nearing the end of their educational path, who making decisions about their life in the big world beyond. But none of that is possible for a child who has not had that spark of curiosity nurtured at the very beginning of his or her schooling experience. Thank you for giving Devon the room to grow. He was a bundle of raw energy. I used to tease him that I would duct tape him to his chair at the dinner table so he would stop popping up out of it. I know it wasn’t easy to harness that little firecracker in a classroom – but oh, what a reward. If he could have gone to school on the weekends and holidays, he would have done so gladly. Thank you for that.
When speaking of Devon, I have to also say that he cared about things. He cared about the other people who crossed his path. He didn’t want anyone to be sad or left out. He wanted things to be fair. Someone once told me that when another child scraped a knee on the playground, it was inevitably Devon who escorted them to the office to get a band aid. That was him in a nutshell. I fell on the stairs once, when I was trying to help his younger brother Ian get his head unstuck from between the railings…again. Whenever I climbed the stairs after that, I would inevitably feel a little hand on the small of my back and hear him say, “Its okay, Oma. I will help you.” I’m not sure how skinny little Devon thought he could stop great big Oma from falling down the stairs if I once started to topple over. Perhaps with his great big heart. That great big heart would be swelling even greater with pride to see what you have done here to honor him. He would be pleased to be able to share his precious books with his friends. He would be excited by the dinosaurs. And he would say, “Monkey” because everyone was looking at him. Devon was important to us. He was important, not because he died, but because he lived. He lived, and loved, and bounced and acted goofy and that is what he would want us to do. Monkey.