Here’s Good News About Teens

Sean Teagarden’s legacy: courage, friendship, hope

Originally published in The Dominion Post
By K. Daniel Glover

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — When the seniors at University High School, with diplomas in hand, say goodbye to youth and take that first step into adulthood tonight, one member of the Class of 1994 will not be there to share in the joy, the anxiety, the memories with his classmates.

Sean Teagarden, once a vibrant young man and always a dear friend of mine, died Oct. 9, 1992, less than two months after his 16th birthday. Halfway through his freshman year at University High, Sean was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that ended his life less than a year later.

I had met Sean only six years earlier when I moved from my hometown of Paden City to Morgantown to study journalism at West Virginia University. His father, Vernon, preached at the church of Christ where I attended services, and I became a regular guest at the Teagarden household during my college years. We became family.

Vernon and his wife, Evelyn, were my parents away from home; Michelle and Mindi were the sisters I never had. And Sean, well, he was my spiritual clone, my soul mate.

I saw in Sean the boy I once was, good and bad, and I saw the chance to guide a child 10 years my junior through the trials and tribulations of adolescence. Although still a wet-behind-the-ears college kid myself.

I was sure that I had some wisdom that would be of benefit to Sean. If he accepted me as a mentor, I told myself, he would avoid the mistakes I had made.

Sean did accept me as a mentor of sorts. We hunted together; we talked sports and girls and religion; and we picked at one another, as boys are wont to do.

But I now know how presumptuous it was to believe that Sean could learn anything from me, for I learned more from him in his last nine months than I possibly could have taught him in a lifetime.

I learned from Sean the true meanings of strength, of love, of dignity, of hope. And I learned anew something I had known when I was Sean’s age — that in spite of what some may think, teenagers are not inherently bad. Their judgment may be poor at times, but that is part of growing up.

Sean’s family, his mother in particular, walked away from his graveside with that same realization. But they learned as much from Sean’s classmates and friends as from the boy they buried.

Evelyn Teagarden asked me to write this article so that others — parents, grandparents, young adults who have not yet experienced the joys and pitfalls of parenthood, perhaps even some teenagers — might know the good news about the next generation, the news they do not notice in the newspapers or see on television.

The news is this: Today’s teenagers, like others who have gone before, are by nature wholesome, caring people.

Sean’s friends proved that time and again during his last months. The stream of visitors — to the hospital when Sean was receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and to his home when he was recovering — was endless, and many of the “regulars” were young men and women who put Sean’s happiness above their own. Some students collected money for Sean; others sent flowers and food. Two classmates gave Sean video games.

When Sean’s parents decided to organize a big birthday bash the August before his death, friends came to wish Sean well. Sean’s grade-school classmates did their part to lift his spirits, too, sending both flowers and cards. Even those who knew Sean only through mutual friends sent cards and phoned.

In his last months, Sean often lacked the stamina to do the things he had done before the cancer invaded his body, but his friends were there when his strength returned. James Swords, one of Sean’s best friends, took him fishing and sometimes chauffeured him around town. When Sean returned exhausted from a bike ride with a group of friends, they helped him into the house, then they all took a nap.

The compassion did not cease when Sean’s life did, either. The memory of dozens of mourning teenagers at McCulla Funeral Home in Westover on a dreary Monday touches my heart to this day. Nobody made those youngsters trek to the funeral home; they went of their own free will to say goodbye to a friend and to grieve for one of their own. A year later, they remembered Sean again with an article in the senior yearbook.

Sean and his friends taught me, the chief of cynics after three-plus years as a political reporter in Washington, D.C., that people young and old alike are good. Most of us want nothing more than to be happy and to make others happy. Although we sometimes may lose sight of that goal, it is the driving force within each of us.

It is what drove Sean and continues to drive those who survive him.

Sean Teagarden never had the chance to graduate from high school, but he graduated from life with honors. The other boys and girls — nay, men and women — of University High School’s Class of 1994 are well on their way to doing the same.

They and their counterparts are the future of this city, this state, this nation, this world. A heavy burden though that may be, I know they are up to the challenge. They proved it two years ago.