Handprint for Kesten added to senior wall


Natalie Sommer and Olivia Farmer

The sister of Ty Kesten, the Baldwin student who died in a motocross accident last year, added her handprint to the senior wall over the weekend as a tribute to her brother.

That capped an emotional weekend in which students started a petition to have Kesten included on the senior handprint wall, while administrators worked to balance school district policy and the wishes of Kesten’s family.

Like most districts, Baldwin-Whitehall has a policy on memorials to deceased students or staff members, in part because memorials like flowers or crosses can be detrimental to students who are struggling with grief.

The policy states: “No artifacts are permitted in schools to memorialize students and staff” beyond a memorial book that is added to the library in honor of the deceased student or staff member.

However, Principal Dr. Walter Graves said, the district has in the past interpreted this policy in different ways, depending on the individual situation. For instance, he said, a memorial bench and a tree have been approved in the past for a deceased staff member and a coach.

“We want to balance the regulations and the wishes of the family,” Graves said. “We would never do anything without the family being involved.”

High school administration contacted the Kesten family to see if family members would want a handprint for Ty. They agreed, and his sister Tommie added the handprint on Saturday.

The online petition seeking the handprint started Friday.

Some of Kesten’s closest friends had talked with Assistant Principal John Saras at the end of the week about having a handprint for Kesten, and they had agreed to discuss it this week. But other friends started the petition without knowing a meeting with administration already had been planned.

“It would have been better if students would have come forward to meet with high school administration in person before going online, because they would have realized we were already working on it,” Graves said.

Then the issue blew up on Twitter, with some students making derogatory comments online about senior class Co-Sponsor Dr. Daniel Harrold, who had answered one student’s question last week about the issue. But Graves said Harrold was “just the messenger from administration.”

He also condemned the attacks on Harrold, and said administrators had spoken with some of the students who had written the social media posts.

Meanwhile, Ty Kesten’s friends applauded the resolution of the issue.

“I couldn’t be happier that he’s going to live on with us forever,” senior Dom Carlino said.

Junior Louie Cipolla agreed.

“I’m happy seeing him up there with all of his friends,” Cipolla said, referring to the senior handprint wall. “It wouldn’t have been right for the 2017 class” without it, he said.