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St. Maria Goretti High takes Prom Promise one step further

April 20, 2012|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com
  • St. Maria Goretti Junior Prom Committee members roll a casket onto the Gymnasium floor during a mock funeral held as part of their Prom Promise campaign.
By Yvette May/Staff Photographer

No parent ever wants to deliver the eulogy at their child’s funeral.

But Sharon Winalski, the mother of St. Maria Goretti High School student Laura Winalski, stood between two caskets Friday afternoon and tried to hold back tears as she somberly spoke about her daughter.

However, Laura was not inside either of the caskets. She was safe and sound about 100 feet away with her classmate, Eric Pino, hiding behind the curtain on the stage inside the Gael Center.

With their prom one day away, Laura, 16, and Eric, 17, were the “victims” of a mock funeral put on by students of the junior class for the school’s Prom Promise program, which asks students to pledge not to drink and drive after the annual school dance, and to make responsible decisions.

“I hope that all of the students, whether they are going to (the) prom or not, realize that the decisions you make don’t just affect you,” Laura said. “When you’re gone, you’re gone, but it’s the people afterwards.”

Numerous lit candles were scattered around the quiet gymnasium as Goretti’s student body of more than 200 filed in and took seats in the bleachers.

Several members of the junior class acted as pallbearers before students watched a video that showed Laura and Eric on their way to prom, talking about how much fun they were going to have at the parties afterward.

Later, Eric, who had just two drinks, was driving Laura home. He took his eyes off the road for just a moment and crashed his car into a tree, killing them both on impact.

Another scene showed an officer from the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Department delivering the news to Winalski at her home. She dropped down to her knees and cried.

“When the officer came, it was light-hearted, it was fun, but every time he said, ‘Your daughter has passed,’ absolutely I cried,” Winalski said afterward. “No parent ever wants to hear those words, especially since we’ve had so many in this area.

“I wanted the kids of Goretti to really take this seriously,” she said. “I wanted it to have an impact on them.”

The presentation wrapped up with eulogies by both student’s parents and a slideshow encouraging students to “not become a statistic” and to make smart choices on prom night.

 “It’s gratifying to me ... the level of concern that this group put in to this effort because it shows their concern for their fellow students,” Goretti Principal Richard Fairley said. “It shows their concern for the issue ... (and) looking out for each other.”

Goretti’s prom is tonight at Fountain Head Country Club in Hagerstown.

The son of Sam and Jeanne Pino of Hagerstown, Eric said a lot of work went into the dramatization, and many classmates gave up some or all of their spring breaks to get it ready in time.

It’s important “because nobody wants to come back to school after prom knowing that they lost their best friend,” he said.

“Our school community, we’re really tight,” Eric said. “Everybody knows everybody. You can tell a secret and everybody knows it by the end of the day. For us, losing somebody would be detrimental. I mean, the whole school would be destroyed, especially the kids who know them really well.”

The mock funeral is the first step toward establishing a new Students Against Destructive Decisions chapter at Goretti.

Starting after the prom, students will begin planning for more events to help raise awareness for making responsible decisions, possibly including an alcohol-free after-prom party next year, Laura said.

Laura, the daughter of Sharon and Ron Winalski of Falling Waters, W.Va., said the experience has changed her life, especially since several other area schools have suffered losses recently.

“Goretti is so fortunate that it hasn’t happened to us, and I want them to realize that it can happen to us,” she said. “Just because it hasn’t, doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen.

“The decisions you make in one moment can change your life for the rest (of your life).”

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