Northfield HS students want more recognition for deceased classmate

The class of 2015 at Northfield High School will graduate without one of their peers. Alex Larsen, 18, died this past year after taking his own life, and many students aren't happy with the way the school is remembering him during this weekend's ceremony.

The students just want three things that don't cost a penny: An empty chair, a moment of silence, and to have Alex's name read at graduation on Sunday -- not because of how he died, but to honor how he lived.

"I can still vividly remember talking to him on a swing set talking about how one day we're going to graduate together at the big kids school," Alex's friend Sina Carey said. "And physically he won't be here. And that hurts."

According to Alex's friend Becky Mussel, he could've graduated early but he stayed in school to volunteer in the Special Education rooms.

A large group of students went to meet with Principal John Leer to share how they want to remember Alex at the ceremony, but his plan was different.

"Thirty-one people came just to meet with Mr. Leer and all he did was talk about the plant the whole time," Mussel said.

Leer said Alex's classmates are allowed to wear ribbons on their gowns, but he already has a plan -- that includes his and several student remarks, and a plant purchased by the senior class that will sit on stage as a kind of recognition of the memory of Alex.

"He was worth much more than a plant and few seconds in a speech," Carey said.

While Alex's name is in the commencement program along with the other graduates, students close to him say he won't be getting his name read. He will also not get the requested empty chair, or even a moment of silence – which some say discourages people from talking about mental illness.

"He was depressed, he had depression and that's why he died, and we can't talk about it at all or even the outcome," Carey said.

Concerned mom Joanne Frederickson also believes Alex deserves more at the graduation -- "I think all the students should do a moment of silence for themselves."

The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports more than 34,000 people take their life every year. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among adults and 3rd leading cause of death among adolescents, according to NAMI.

If you or someone you know is in an emergency please call 1-800-273-TALK or 911.

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