In Isaiah 49, we read “for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has been my strength.” There was a quiet strength about Justin; something that all of us admired. Like every teenage boy, he desired to be self-sufficient, which made his physical limitations so much more difficult for him. It would have been easy for Justin to use Muscular Dystrophy as an excuse for why he couldn’t do things, why he may have needed some special consideration by teachers, but he never did. He never wanted to call attention to himself, and when he did receive attention, he was often embarrassed by it.
Although MD prevented him from participating in many of the routine activities of high school, Justin was very much a part of life at Catholic. Justin always had a very special place in my heart. He was in my yearbook class this last tri-mester. But ever since Justin came to Catholic, I’ve always had my eye out for him—whether it was between classes, during fire-drills or bad weather. He always knew he could come to my office to sit down. I’d often see him in the library playing games on the internet while sharing his expertise with others, passing him in the halls, or see him hanging out with friends in the lunchroom just being “one of the guys.”
Mr. & Mrs. Braswell made it very clear when he enrolled, that they wanted Justin to have as normal school life as possible. Many students were unaware of his diagnosis until late in the fall of his first year with us. One time, early on, he fell upon entering the building. He sat quietly on the floor, as many of his classmates were doing. It was not obvious to anyone, until after the bell rang for class to begin. Our principal noticed that Justin didn’t get up when the others did. As Justin was helped to his feet by Mr. Jones, he smiled—said “thank you”—and hurried to class.
We told our students that Justin might need some assistance from time to time and they TRIED to help him…but Justin would not have any part of that. The only concession that Justin accepted was having a textbook in each of his classes so that he did not have to carry a heavy back pack at school or back & forth from home. Justin was an example of strength and determination to his classmates and his teachers. His quiet way of handling his MD, his courage to keep on going, even when he did not feel like it, and his ability to give that famous smile…no matter how he felt…taught us all about perseverance. We will never forget him and the memory of his valiant fight will always be an inspiration to us all. From Justin we learned to never give up, to always do the best you can, and to be pleasant through it all. Rare people, like Justin, remind us of the great dignity of our calling. It is not WE who lifted JUSTIN, but JUSTIN who lifted US.
Haely McBeal, a Sophomore, Honor student and President’s List Recipient