(UPDATE 11/26/19: A TEDx talk from Tyler Jones has now been posted. It is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=33wKpgsot40).
When she attended Monticello Middle School, Allyson Garrett would always smile when her friend Andrew Bryant raised his hand in class.
Andrew was in a wheelchair as he battled Muscular Dystrophy, one that he lost in 2011, but he was often the funniest kid in the room.
“I was giggling in the back,” said Garrett, a Monticello High School graduate who will soon earn her teaching degree from Illinois State University.
She would giggle because she knew what came next.
His modus operandi was feigning a question for his instructors, then launching into a story that only Andrew Bryant could tell.
“Teachers would ask, ‘Andrew, is this a question or a story?’ And he would say something like, ‘well, it’s kind of a question, but there’s a story too,” said Garrett, the daughter of two teachers who was influenced by Bryant to go into the field of special education.
Another classmate, Tyler Jones, helped spearhead an upcoming Andrew Bryant Day on Nov. 9, with the thought it will raise awareness for muscular dystrophy and give an opportunity to discuss how kids handle traumatic events.
Jones said the loss hit him harder the last two years than when it happened eight years ago.
“Mrs. Bryant (Andrew’s mother) asked me a couple of years ago how classmates handle this kind of loss. That was a perspective-shifting question for me,” said Jones, a student at North Central College.
“I knew I had to do something,” he added.
So he started a Go Fund Me campaign to raise $1,000 to bankroll two years worth of scholarship money for Monticello students, and to strengthen discussion among youth who experience loss.
He’s doing it all for Andrew, one of his best friends in middle school.
“There was something about Andrew. He was always happy, always smiling,” said Jones.
He relays a game they would play that revolved around Bryant’s affinity for war games. As Andrew’s muscle mass decreased from the Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, he went from a walker to a manual wheelchair to an electric one. He also could not wear shoes due to increased arching of his feet, so he would carry extra pairs of socks on his wheelchair.
“I would throw his socks like a grenade, and he would make an explosion sound,” said Jones. “And teachers would give us that look...”
Jones, a senior studying management and entrepreneurship, also gave a TEDx Talk on the subject, which will be shown to high school students on Nov. 12 and be available online in the future.
The Go Fund Me account has raised $555 of its $1,000 goal. To donate, go to gofundme.com and search for the “Andrew Bryant Scholarship Fund.”
Garrett said she would be paired with Bryant on class projects and field trips, which not only fostered a strong friendship, but influenced her a career in teaching special education so she can get to know more Andrew Bryants.
“He knew how hard his life was, but he never gave up. He fought the whole way. He showed that it is possible to live life no matter the circumstances,” said Garrett, a 2016 Monticello High School graduate.
A proclamation issued by the City of Monticello in June stated his 14-year life well.
“Whereas Andrew Bryant never took one of his 5,208 days for granted, the legacy he leaves behind is a healthy reminder to appreciate every moment.”
“He was just aware of himself, and that was great for people to see,” added Garrett. “He was not the kid in the wheelchair. He was just like us.”