The tragic events of Sept. 13, certainly changed the course of Freeman High School senior Jackson Clark’s final year in high school, but they didn’t change the quality of his character.
That was the day that Freeman student Sam Strahan died in a school shooting that left three others seriously injured, drawing the nation’s attention to the small Eastern Washington town. For those who know him best, Clark’s response to the incident has been unsurprising: He and two classmates created a video designed to show support to other schools and communities struggling with the same trauma.
“When we heard about other shootings, we wanted to do something to support them, to let them know that we have their back, that we know where we are right now and how they’re feeling, and to show them how we were able to get through it,” he said.
“Because we got so much support,” he continued, “we wanted to return the favor. Everybody heals in a different way. We invited everyone in our school community to come and share something for the video, and showed it to our school recently. You could call it our message of hope.”
Clark is vice president of the Freeman student body, and says that he’s been involved in leadership activities as long as he can remember. Even before Sept. 13, he said, his goal has been to develop relationships with as many people as possible in his school. When he leaves for Walla Walla Community College this fall, he hopes that people will remember him as someone who was unfailingly kind to everyone he met.
He and other seniors on the Freeman football team played a key role last fall in helping to convince the school’s administration to participate in the scheduled football game only two days after the shooting.
“We felt that it would be a way to unify everyone, and it was a huge moment, the most special game I’ve ever played in,” he said. To go out there and deliver something normal for our community was crucial. All of our team leaders had decided that we wanted to play, and we were grateful that administration supported our decision.”
Clark’s basketball coach, Marty Jessett, said he was “a beacon of light in the midst of despair for Freeman students and the community.”
“He reached out to (Sam’s mother) Ami numerous times to reassure her that Sam will be remembered at Freeman,” Jessett added.
Freeman always will have a special place in Clark’s heart, and he hopes to return after he finishes college and embarks on a career, which he hopes will be in physical therapy.
His family moved from Walla Walla the summer before his eighth-grade year, and he says he felt welcome the first day he came to school.
“So many of the students had been together since kindergarten or first grade, so for me to able to come in and be respected as a new kid was a really big deal.
“That’s what I will miss most about this place – the atmosphere. From the time we got here, it felt like a family. Even before Sept. 13, there weren’t a lot of cliques here, but this year has made us realize that we have so much in common, and that no one is going through stuff alone. Whatever it is, we’re all in this together.”