November 14, 2013
On holiday breaks, Madeleine Gagne ’15 works in a toy store just down the street from Sandy Hook Elementary School, where many of the students from the school would come to shop.
When Newtown, CT, resident Madeleine Gagne ’15 returned to school this past winter, the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was still fresh in her mind. She felt disconnected from her town and guilty for being in sunny Florida when the tragedy of Dec. 14 was still resonating with the folks in Newtown.
“When I came back to UT, I needed someone to tell me they knew how I felt,” said Gagne, who felt isolated in what she was going through.
Not wanting other students to feel alone, she is helping organize a remembrance ceremony on Nov. 20 at 7 p.m. in the Sykes Chapel and Center for Faith and Values.
While the ceremony, hosted with UT’s Better Together Interfaith Group, is scheduled near the one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting, the event is not just for Sandy Hook.
“The event is for anyone who has lost someone and felt alone to come together,” Gagne said.
This event follows a last-minute initiative Gagne hosted in the spring. It was during her world religions class, where she was required to keep a reflection journal, that her professor recommended action. So Gagne held a fundraiser at the spring Dance Happening for the Sandy Hook Promise, a national effort of parents to prevent gun violence. Gagne raised $260. “I needed to prove to myself that I hadn’t forgotten.”
The Nov. 20 remembrance program includes music by Sigma Alpha Iota International Music Fraternity, a reflection by Gagne, a speaker from the Franciscan Center who used to be an Army chaplain, an open mic for those who are compelled to share, and the painting of coins from the Ben’s Bells project.
Following the shooting in Newtown, as well as the Boston Marathon bombing, the family behind Ben’s Bells hung the bells around town. They are meant to encourage acts of intentional kindness to one another.
“I think it changed how our town reacted to the shooting, doing acts of kindness rather than being angry and tense with one another,” Gagne said.
On the 14th of every month, since Dec. 14, 2012, Gagne has worn a little bit of green — from the OPI nail polish “Sandy Hook Green” to a Pura Vida ankle bracelet. It’s how she stays connected to her town. She also has one of those Ben’s Bells hanging in the window of her room in Morsani Hall.
“Whenever I feel stressed out or overwhelmed with school, I just look at the bell in my window,” Gagne said, “and it puts everything in perspective.”
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