NDSS’ Class of 2020 graduation was an emotional time for Dave and Gwen Mills, as it would have been when their son Garrett accepted his high school diploma.
Instead, his parents marked the occasion by handing out a memorial scholarship in Garrett’s name to two of his graduating classmates.
In 2017 Garrett was a few weeks away from completing Grade 9 when he passed away at Napanee’s King Street Park after an unanchored soccer net fell on him. In the months following the accident, his parents established the Garrett Mills Memorial Award, which has been presented every year to a student who demonstrates kindness, generosity, selflessness, a positive attitude, is charitable, philanthropic and ethical-all traits exhibited by Garrett.
This year’s winners were Joshua Henderson and Joanna Holtz, two of Garrett’s closest friends who were with him the day of the accident.
“Josh had been in Garrett’s life since Kindergarten and Joanna knew Garrett for I guess about three or four years,” said Garrett’s father, who is better known by his stage name Buzz Collins. “They went to public school together and began dating at some point in Grade 9. To be honest they were about to go on their first actual date the night the accident happened but for all intents and purposes they were girlfriend and boyfriend. Garrett was really careful with the people he would align himself with and were in his circle of friends. He really found it important to keep positive company.”
Collins said he had hoped those two would be considered for the award but left the final decision up to the staff at NDSS. He was thrilled when they told him they had also been considering Henderson and Holtz. Both received $2,000 toward their future endeavours.
Collins admits he and his wife were dreading having to present the award at graduation, given all the emotions that were surrounding what would have been Garrett’s final year of high school. One of the few good things to come out of the pandemic was that with no formal graduation, the family was able to present the award at the memorial bench that has been established in Garrett’s honour next to King Park.
Collins says he was grateful that NDSS principal Erin Pincivero and 2020 valedictorian Marshall McFarland both honoured his son during the online graduation ceremony.
“I’ve only got one piece of advice and it’s not from me,” McFarland told his fellow graduating classmates. “It’s from someone who should be here today – Garrett Mills. Even though he couldn’t have known what 2020 would look like, his words have never been more important or more appropriate, ‘Get out there and change this world for the better.’”
Last month’s scholarship presentation was the final year that Garrett’s memory will be attached to a scholarship. Instead it will evolve to a fund that can be given out to the community at any time. Collins has already used the fund to donate to a family that had lost their home in a fire.
“That sort of thing is the kind of thing that aligns with Garrett’s slogan on his Instagram, which just says get out there and change this world for the better,” said Collins on adapting the scholarship to a fund for the entire community. “Both my wife and I came to the conclusion that this would be a better way to really fulfill Garrett’s legacy.”
Raising money for the fund will also be done differently going forward as well. Last October the family hosted the final Garrettfest, which was an annual event held at the Strathcona Paper Centre featuring live music and Collins’ mentalism act.
“That was a real difficult challenge for us to put that together each year,” Collins said of Garrettfest. “That was a decision that didn’t come lightly. We discussed it at great lengths.”
Collins has instead tweak the Facebook page, which was originally established by friends following the accident to raise money for the funeral, switching the name from A Gift To Garrett to now read A Gift From Garrett. That page will host online auctions and advertise any other fundraisers for the cause. Right now up for bids is a signed poster of the Glorious Sons. Bidding will run until July 8.
As devastating as the loss of Garrett has been, Collins says his family has taken some solace in carrying on his son’s legacy through charitable work.
“We’re so close to it so it’s hard to tell whether or not people still talk about Garrett or remember him or miss him,” said Collins. “I was really impressed by how many people reached out to us just leading up to graduation, his fellow classmates and what not who gave him a shout out. You spend time promoting fundraisers and spend time lobbying provincial government for legislation for anchored soccer nets and what not, but at the end of the day more than anything three years later still miss him and think about him every single day.”