You don’t hear people talk much about legends any more. This post is not intended to be political in any way – it is a tribute to a man whom none can speak poorly of. A legend who lived among us.
Last night, Chris VanderSlice passed away after a nearly four year battle with leukemia. I knew Chris for nineteen years, and I have hundreds of personal experiences with him in all kinds of situations. Chris was always seeking the best for everyone around him. He had energy to match his height, and I saw him take on everything – he never faded from the pursuit of what was right. He had a passion for young people, and I watched him tirelessly advocate for students.
Chris was an inspiration to so many of us. His strength of character and commitment to our young people inspired me. His encouragement and support inspired thousands of students.
I picked the picture that starts this post carefully. It shows Chris as we all knew him. It was taken in Washington D.C. in the summer of 2009. Most people don’t know this, but Chris was a huge proponent of the Grandville robotics program. In 2009, a group of our sixth graders signed on to play BotBall – a robotics competition primarily for high school students. Chris was an assistant principal at the middle school, and he thought this was a great challenge for these young people. Our young students went on to place in the top three teams at a Regional event in St. Louis, earning them an opportunity to play at the National Championship in Washington D.C. This event was over the 4th of July, when many school employees are getting some time away, but Chris was right there with us.
I learned a lot from the way Chris lived his life over the years, but his approach to facing cancer had an even bigger impact on me (and thousands of students). “Grit” became a standard part of everyone’s view of life, and the grit Chris displayed in fighting cancer was an example for all of us. Losing Chris leaves a huge pair of shoes to fill. The world has too few legends, but he certainly was a legendary leader to those around him. I’ll close with one of my favorite “Chris tweets,” and a couple more photos from that hot July trip to Washington D.C. that a bunch of sixth graders shared with him. Goodbye Chris, you will never be forgotten.