His legacy lives on

The legacies of Principal Jay Ellis lived on, in a special assembly held at Rose Hill Junior High (RHJH) last Friday.

The legacies of Principal Jay Ellis lived on, in a special assembly held at Rose Hill Junior High (RHJH) last Friday.

Ellis died of a brain aneurysm on Sept. 28, at the age of 43.

In deference to students’ emotions, the media was asked to refrain from attending the assembly. But the Redmond Reporter talked with Erin Bowser, assistant principal at Rose Hill Jr. High, the following Monday morning.

Bowser commented, “Starting Monday (Sept. 27, the day when students heard about about Ellis’ passing), the ASB leadership team met and decided they wanted to do a memorial on Friday. This really was student-led and I was overwhelmed with the maturity they showed, supporting their friends, keeping up with their schoolwork and planning this while they were grieving, too.”

Students speakers included ASB president Vak Cherif, Brynn Ehni and Erin Saunderson from RHJH and Michael Pavlov from Stella Schola Middle School, a Lake Washington School District Choice school which shares a campus with RHJH.

Each shared a memory and a sentiment that Ellis “always would do what was best for each individual student,” said Bowser. “They felt that he really cared.”

Teachers and principals often have famous sayings that they pass on to their students — little sound bites that the kids remember long into adulthood. We asked Bowser what motto might forever stick in these students’ minds, when they think about Mr. Ellis.

Bowser paused before giving her answer.

“It’s hard to pick just one,” she said.

Then she offered, “There is saying by Maya Angelou on his office wall: ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ That is how he lived his life.”

Ellis taught band and orchestra at Evergreen Junior High, Inglewood Junior High and Eastlake High School before he became assistant principal at Eastlake and then principal at Rose Hill Junior High. Because music was so much a part of his life, it was an integral part of the students’ tribute to him, as well.

The choir chose to sing “Homeward Bound.” The jazz band played “Surfin’ USA,” because the current ninth graders liked the song when Ellis introduced them to it in seventh grade. And the orchestra selected “Ashokar Farewell,” because “they wanted to say goodbye to him in his own language, which was music,” said Bowser.

The assembly lasted about an hour and students “handled it beautifully,” she added. “I was amazed not only by those who were part of it, but the audience was so attentive and engaged, they were so great. Jay would have been proud of everyone. It really was a celebration. They were able to see so many different aspects of him. We also wanted to give students a sense of closure.”

ASB students at RHJH are looking into a permanent way to memorialize Ellis.

“They believe he will always be part of our school,” Bowser concluded.