By Jay Steiger
A few days before what would have been his 20th birthday, family, friends, and school staff dedicated a memorial bench in honor of beloved Grossmont High School student Ryan Wilcox.
Wilcox, who fought a long battle with cancer, died in September 2016. When students at the school heard about his illness, they worked together to give him friendship and support, starting a program called RyanStrong. An all-school pep rally was held for him in May 2016.
“The rally was one of the most beautiful days ever,” said Ryan’s mother, Amy Wilcox. “It was a moment we all needed and Ryan was so excited to be on stage and feel the love from the students.”
She also stated that the support shown by the school gave him the strength to keep fighting.
One of Ryan’s passions was for superhero movies. He was a huge fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and in particular, Captain America. After outreach from Grossmont students, actor Chris Evans recorded a video for Ryan, which was played at the school rally. Following the rally, Evans, Robert Downey Jr., and Gwyneth Paltrow flew to San Diego and visited Ryan at his home.
The memorial bench was donated by Grossmont High School alumnus and benefactor, Bill Woolman. Woolman believes that it is important to give back to the community where he grew up and was fortunate to make his money. He said that he was honored to fund the bench and that if Ryan, knowing he might not have much time left, could keep going and be strong, that everyone could likewise be inspired by that spirit and work to help each other.
At the bench dedication ceremony, Grossmont Principal Dan Barnes spoke of how much Ryan meant to the school and how humbled he was by the level of student driven support for him. Amy Wilcox noted that the love and support the family has received is “indescribable.”
“To know that Ryan’s sweet spirit will live on through this bench and the scholarship program makes me hope that when someone sits on this bench they will feel the same love and strength,” she said.
To further honor his memory the Ryan Wilcox Memorial Scholarship was started in 2017 and provided two $1,000 scholarships to Grossmont High School seniors. Donations are being accepted for the 2018 fundraising drive at gofundme.com/ryanstrong2018. The Grossmont High School Education Foundation is providing administrative support to accept the donations and future disbursement. Foundation President Tony Lawrence noted that he, too, holds the rally for Ryan as one of his most cherished memories and the foundation will do whatever they can to support the scholarship.
— Jay Steiger is a parent and school and community volunteer.