EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - The Relay for Life at Hammarskjold Middle School was both a solemn and joyous occasion yesterday as students and staff gathered to celebrate the life of Sabina Adams, a sixth-grader who lost her life to bone cancer last year. Students also participated in sports events as part of their fundraising efforts for the national Relay for Life program of the American Cancer Society. The sorrow caused by the passing of Sabina Adams, an autistic student who succumbed to an aggressive cancer, gave way to a joyous group acknowledgement of the impact that a single individual can have a on a school community. there were songs, speeches, and sports. And there was a bench.
Before the event, HMS Principal Dr. Michael Gaskell described Sabina as a girl who "always smiled" and who was pleased to be at last year's Relay for Life event. He noted that her entire class, now the seventh grade, was present honor her memory. He said that he hoped the event would provide "some closure" for Sabina's 600 classmates by "doing something positive" in her memory
He also praised the HMS school community for raising over $20,000 in 2017 to fight cancer and expressed hope that this year's Relay would approach the same amount.
Gaskell seemed especially proud of HMS Special Education teacher Stephanie Brown, who has taught at Hammarskjold for the past six years and who was Sabina's teacher for two years. Brown said, "Sabina was a joy. She always had a big smile and was always happy to come to school, even when she was at her sickest. She was our inspiration."
During the program, Brown added that she loved "Sabina's sheer joy and perseverance. She had the determination and courage to fight every day. she found happiness in the small joys of life, like her lollipops and markers."
Brown's sentiments were echoed by Monique Davidoff, an occupational therapist who spent years with Sabina and her family, helping Sabina get through the daily chores of life. Sabina had a painful partial leg amputation during her illness, and Davidoff worked "hard with her so that she didn't lose what she had gained" over the years. "I miss her very much, "said Davidoff, " My children knew and loved her. She was a part of our family."
After the seventh graders, district administrators, faculty and staff assembled in front of the school, the presentation began with a heartfelt rendition of "The Rose" by Bette Midler performed by the Hammarskjold Chorus.
Principal Gaskell noted, "Today we relay for Sabina." As he looked around at the students, many of whom were clad in purple shirts with lollipops - Sabina's favorite - on the front and the American Cancer Society logo on the back, Gaskell said, "This is what a school should look like." He indicated the supportive atmosphere and the sense of quiet calm in the crowd.
He added, "Sabina's mom, who is here with us today came to me earlier this school year and asked that we take the opportunity to recognize Sabina, to remember her in life as someone who represents hope for all of us. She asked me if we could give back to Sabina's dear friends in Ms. Brown's class, who stand here with me today. She asked me if we could remember her in some special way. This is her moment... Her memory will last forever at Hammarskjold, thanks not only to the generous donation of her mother Dr. Siddiqui, but also because of her selfless act to give back to this school community.
The bench that sits covered next to me is that donation, and the commemoration that will be affixed to it memorializes why we relay at Hammarskjold. We relay for Sabina, we relay for all of those who have touched our lives, who struggle with their own battle with cancer. We relay because there is hope and courage in doing so. We relay because we are a loving, caring school community, a school that I am proud to call myself the principal of. A school should look like this (look at audience). A school coming together, dressed in purple, with our field and school decorated to show our commitment to something so much bigger than our school. A purpose that brings our caring school community together when others fight. You are all part of that."
Dr. Siddiqui then spoke, saying that "Sabina has left us in the arms of the angels." "After seven months of immobilization during the progress of her cancer last year, she was happy to be back at Hammarskjold. She had a strong will and was a hard worker who wanted to stick with her routine."
Siddiqui described her daughter as having "severe autism" and as being "minimally verbal." The painful cancer spread from her legs to her hips, pelvis, and spine before making a fatal move to her lungs. She expressed gratitude to the numerous teachers, aides, therapists and friends at Hammarskjold, Churchill, and Chitttick Schools who helped her "flower from heaven." She closed her speech with the lyrics of "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?" by Rod Stewart.
Gaskell and the Special Education teachers then "unveiled" the new bench dedicated to Sabina, which was wrapped with an enormous purple bow. "This bench is a tribute to Sabina's difficult journeys through autism and cancer, " said Siddiqui.
After the program concluded, then the Relay for Life began with Hammarskjold students participating in carnival activities, games, walks, and obstacle/relay courses. The mood was high, and so was the energy, as a bunch of purple-clad middle-schoolers, many with purple hair, temporary tattoos, pom-poms and bandanas ran the gauntlet.
It was clear that Sabina's smile had affected them all.