Remembering Graham

Remembering Graham
Home in a Person
Home in a Person

Written by Max Baschinsky


     Few people can reflect on their 26 months of high school, littered with dozens of classes, and pick out just one favorite. But for me, it’s easy. Without a hint of a doubt, mine is 3D design with Jake McDevitt, Bryce Bell, and Graham Floto.

     I could write pages upon pages upon pages about our trials and tribulations in Casey’s studio, but none quite resonated with me as much as the 7-day war. 

     Admittedly, January was hard for me. Lots was happening in school and out of school, and it felt like I couldn’t catch a break. In turn, my self-esteem deteriorated to the point where I questioned: what was happening, am I enough, do I matter? Those thoughts occupied large corners of my brain, however I refused to show them (at least outwardly). 

     Many of my peers glossed right over the even-keel, happy facade I put on, and expectedly so, because we, as a class, have learned (tragically) from experience that it’s almost impossible to discern the discrepancies between a truly happy-go-lucky kid with an overwhelmed teenager crashing and burning out, losing control of their metaphorical car mid-turn. But one kid didn’t. Graham didn’t. But that’s not even what sets him apart from every teenager I met. As incredible as recognizing my distress was, the way he responded was even more ingenious and showed what made Graham, well, Graham. 

     Sometime in January, I remember being hunched over the table in the back left corner, desperately cramming some information in my frazzled brain for a math quiz. I had already been destined to fail, considering I started studying for the first time 30 minutes prior. My heart was racing. My pupils dilated. My hands were shaking. It’s like I was not just losing control of my situation, but losing myself at the same time. Something needed to give.

     Enter the sound of clay shattering, so brittle that the noise could probably be heard through the walls. I looked up, and there was my lone creation of the year, the infamous chocolate chip cookie with exquisitely detailed chips, texture, and undulations of a given chocolate chipper at Panera (it was a piece of total garbage), in pieces spread across the floor. 

     I looked up and there was Graham, not upset, not guilty, not with a shade of remorse for this, but instead chuckling. And you know what? To hell with my project. In that instant, he made me laugh harder than I could remember I had…maybe ever. I’d trade any piece of art, any piece of effort, any test score, any homework, just to invoke that laugh one more time. 

     This so-called “incident” didn’t just revive me, but it sparked a mission, a passion, like a dying flame of a fireplace before the wood stokes hues of orange or blue. I felt back. I was back. Graham had brought me back.

    While Graham did make me feel whole again, he was going to pay for this attack on my artwork. When shattering my masterpiece, Graham made a huge blunder, considering his attack on my “troops” (pieces of art) sparked the 7-day war: a grueling battle between him and me where projects were shattered, projectiles soared, clay was put in backpacks, and homework was ruined. 

     Although we took a break in our fighting because of Graham’s declining health during the flu season, we ended with a treaty between the Russian and Vietnamese forces, signed and mitigated by ChatGPT.

     In hindsight, I don’t remember how I did on that test I was cramming for, but probably not too well. In hindsight, I don’t remember the drama plaguing me, except that it only made things worse. In hindsight, I don’t remember every detail about Graham as much as I wish I did right now. But what I do know, and will always appreciate him for, is that he made me feel better when I didn’t ask him to. He wasn’t expected to, but he did when I needed him to. For at least a second, Graham made it all go away like few others could, and I know it’s not just me who thinks that.

His Infinite Identity
His Infinite Identity

Written by Jake McDevitt


     In 5th grade, I shared every single class with Graham, so, as you can imagine, we became pretty close. 

     One weekend, Graham invited me, Leighton Williams, and Keas Zwack to his house. We were going to spend the night, just hanging out. We started off in his pool, just playing with his dog, Vita. She loved running around the pool and chasing us; dashing around the pool, cutting corners, etc. Graham urged Vita to not jump in. She jumped in. She also pooped. 

     Graham helped us all get out of the pool and grabbed soap for us to wash off with. Something as simple as that—getting soap for us to clean ourselves up—stuck with me throughout our entire friendship. Graham never ceased to stand by and help his friends, regardless of what happened. I felt this time and time again over the past couple of years, with him being there for me time and time again, even when I was probably in the wrong. And when I was just completely in the wrong, he stayed. 

     We went inside following our cleanup and began eating chicken nuggets and talking to his Amazon Alexa, asking random questions and playing weird songs. This went on for two hours, with Graham, and his creative mind, coming up with funnier and funnier ideas to ask Alexa about, keeping us laughing the entire time. 

     As we got more and more tired, Graham pulled out a mattress for us to sleep on, but came up with a new idea—to ride it down his stairs. I was terrified, Graham was not. I never came to understand how he got over his fears so easily, every single time, but he simply did. In an attempt to dispel my fears, Graham put down pillows at the bottom of the staircase, and he and I hopped on. As we started the rocky ride down, I felt every bone shake in my body, but, when I looked over at Graham, he was staring forward with such visible excitement that I couldn’t help but smile, and I still can’t help it. 

     Every time I did something with Graham that initially seemed scary, the look on his face and his aura of pure excitement allowed me to conquer any of my fears—as long as he was with me. He taught me more than that, of course, but his never-ending fearlessness stuck with me. This fearlessness sparked so much passion inside of him and allowed him to constantly, endlessly, be himself. This sense of self inspired his confidence to show his complex, incredible, heart. His heart embodied his unique, infinite identity. It was always more than just the mattress: it was pure and boundless passion.

What the Roses Meant
What the Roses Meant

Written by Jake McDevitt


     Spending all of my time with my friends and understanding their pain didn’t prepare me for his parents. I don’t think anything would’ve properly prepared me for it, but in a way it reminded me of everything good–I was a child again. I haven’t felt as young as I did when I was with him.  

    Graham and I have been friends since fourth grade, only because I asked him to tell a girl I liked her, and I knew he was in her class.

     We had every class together, played games in school, got in trouble, rode a mattress down his staircase, had sleepovers, made group chats, called every day, played Slendytubbies, Fortnite, and Among Us, hid in Mrs. Nelson’s room, got in trouble, went ice-skating, boated together, jet skied, jumped off Shark Tower, adventured in Lakeland, went to parties, ran around on the beach, explored Weedon Island, camped on it, too, and got in trouble. A number of times. I also went to his house the weekend before. I saw his parents, brothers, and dog. It took me seven years to properly understand why I was his friend.

    Surrounded by friends, I understood I wasn’t alone. I was comforted because I wasn’t the only one dealing with this. I sat next to Zoe Cattran, who was fidgeting and picking apart the dead roses that she held. Whispers echoed in Court James’ front yard, bouncing off the fence, garage, and windows, as we lingered, awaiting Graham’s family. Our plan was to be enough for them; showing our support while also not overwhelming them; a balance of cards stacked together. Even with the plan, I felt an uneasiness, a kind of nervousness that made it hard to breathe. They were almost here.

     Graham’s family, with the burden of grief attempting to cement them to the floor, dragged themselves towards the house–I had never seen his mom, Vanissa Ma, so quiet, so lifeless. Her sentences as well. Interjected. Indistinguishable. And interrupted by tears. She couldn’t fight it. Vanissa hid her face and retreated into John Floto. John aged a couple of years from when I saw him last. He looked haunted, his head swollen with thoughts, yet nothing could be said. I don’t remember much else about how they looked—I tried to forget it.

     I remember walking from the front yard to the backyard, everyone boarding boats. I almost fell into the water as I transferred from the wooden, splintery dock to the smooth, furnished wood of the deck of the boat because I was holding on to several bouquets of pink, yellow, and red roses. Each boat sailed for Shark Tower, a tall tower sprouting out of the bay water with large, rectangular reflective boards to heed large ships. 

     I lounged on the back of Cruz Cibran’s boat and reflected on the past week. It was hard to go from seeing someone nearly every day for the past seven years to cold, harsh silence. None of it felt real. I talked with him the night of, everything was normal, and yet it wasn’t. I think I could’ve done something, and yet I didn’t. I never wanted this to happen, and yet it feels like I did.

     I cried and stopped crying in an instant, my face flush with tears. I didn’t want this to be how I thought about Graham, I yearned to laugh—and, so, I did. I must’ve looked crazy because I felt glances pierce through my back, but my mind protected me. 

     We circled Shark Tower, unloading people to jump from and spray paint the tower. I stayed, still not letting go of the roses that felt perfect, yet weren’t. As the boat gained distance from the tower, I began to loosen the grip I had, my fingers lingering on the bent stems that held the slightly wilted petals of the rose, in preparation to let go of my emotions. I handed out the roses to those who were left on the boat, an even amount of roses for each person; seemingly perfect. I don’t know how to let go, but I’m sure this is it.

     I plucked the petals off roses, gingerly and individually, feeling the microscopic tears that I produced, searching for intricate secrets that the rose held with each sensation. I focused on the natural beauty of the roses and the tranquil water ahead of me. Each petal that I plucked I held, attempting to understand it, where it came from, how it grew—a universe. I couldn’t understand the universe. I couldn’t understand the sensation of the petals. I’m not sure how much I felt.

     Delayed by a breeze, the colorful rose petals were released into the serene water. The rose petals fell apart, came together, took shape in my mind and in the water. As the boat entrapped them with its wake, pink, yellow, red petals swayed carefully, forming notes and chords, an orchestra of color loudened by the reflective theater walls of water. I was entranced by their pattern, locked in place with my emotions. I felt a lot. I began to understand. Graham’s death reminded me about what living truly meant. I accepted my place in this world. Graham distracted me from the impossibly serious nature of life. I’m still a child.

Celebrating Graham
Celebrating Graham

  In honor of Graham’s birthday, April 4, 2024, Graham’s parents invited a large group of his friends to their house to celebrate what would’ve been his 17th birthday. His mom set up food that Graham liked and spread out old yearbooks to see old photos of him and friends together. When it came time for the sunset, everyone went out on boats towards Shark Tower—one of Graham’s favorite spots in the  bay. At the tower, similar to last year, the group plucked flower petals and threw them into the water. His mom gave out large balloon doves and markers to write messages to Graham that were then set off into the sky, and into his arms. From junior Jake McDevitt, “I’ll forever appreciate his parents and the pain they’ve endured while still making sure that everyone is able to honor him all the same.”

     Following that, on April 12, 2024, Shorecrest’s entire junior class was invited to St. Pete Beach—where Graham frequented with friends. Many watched the sunset together and the waves lap, reflecting on the many memories made in the water with Graham and together over the years. In a final note of commemoration, the group wrote ‘LLG’ (Long Live Graham) in the sand, honoring and celebrating his life and infinite impact.

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