School Chest 2015: Coming Home


For anyone who doesn’t understand what School Chest is all about, why we spend three weeks a year selling food and putting on events and channeling Elon Musk in our homeroom fundraising entrepreneurship, here is why. It is for the little kid rocking a bandana with a toothy grin, wildly optimistic as he fought a losing battle for his body day after day. It is for the woman who faced the unfathomable pain of losing a child—twice—and, against all odds, channeled her grief and maternal love into a lasting force for good. It is for the money and awareness we raise for GIPPCC that will help kids like Keegan across Illinois, every day, well past the announcement of the final total.

When GIPPCC was chosen as one of two finalists to be School Chest’s beneficiary this year, Mimi Grant (Deerfield picture mom, GIPPCC vice president, all-around fantastic human being, etc.) said that she had already accomplished her real aim, which was, if nothing else, to remind Keegan’s classmates of how fragile life is, how nothing in this world is guaranteed. I hope everyone at Deerfield takes this to heart, as School Chest has so little to do with money and so much to do with the cause for which we fight. The number that is presented the last day of School Chest by the two beaming, exhausted co-chairs (this year, the incomparable Matthew Miller and Dani Gottstein) is merely a testament to the Deerfield community’s unending zeal and generosity.

There was a moment at the Benefit when Mimi was telling her story, going through her PowerPoint to explain how she became a part of GIPPCC. I had seen this same presentation a few times by then, but the emotion was just as barbed and raw as the first time I had heard her story. When Mimi got to the slide just before Tierney’s diagnosis, the beginning of a slew of bad news for Mimi and her family, she did something slightly different: she paused. She lingered on the picture of her with her three children. In those few seconds, before she delved into tragedy, I imagine that she wasn’t on a stage, telling her heartbreaking story. Instead, she was back with her three healthy children, imagining the sleepy Sunday mornings making pancakes and watching cartoons that she’d never gotten. Right there, in the Deerfield Hyatt, surrounded by the hundreds of the people who cared about her most in the world, she was anything but alone.

David Foster Wallace tells us that “Every love story is a ghost story.” But perhaps, in this case, it’s the other way around. This is not a ghost story; it is a love story. This story is not about Keegan’s tragic death, about how he suffered needlessly in his final weeks. It is not about the woman with the steel resolve and boundless heart who lost two children. It is not about death and sadness. No. It is about, as Mimi asked to be called Sunday night, “not the woman who lost two children, but the one who gained 1600.” It is about how happiness is a choice. It is about the power of pediatric palliative care—how it reunited Keegan with his brother Reilly after thirty-six long, agonizing days apart before Keegan’s death. It is about a community that never hesitates to help others in their time of need, that shares not only its joys, but also its sorrows. It is about love.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. And I think that’s what we, the village of Deerfield, have done here. Raised a child, brought him back to life, given him the commanding presence at DHS that he never had a chance to gain on his own. So Keegan never got a chance to storm Deerfield Square senior year or walk across the Ravinia stage to get his diploma or run on the cross-country team. But, that doesn’t mean he never walked the halls of this school. He did. He still does—in the form of 1600 kids giving their time and effort to support GIPPCC, in his famed words that adorn our apparel, in how we hold him in our memories long after we leave these halls for good.

In the School Chest opening assembly, Mimi told the school that for children who have received a fatal diagnosis, their immediate urge, overwhelmingly, is to go home—to be among those who love them. That’s what this fundraiser has really been about.

From everyone at Deerfield High School, everyone who played a part in this unforgettable School Chest, welcome home, Keegan.