The pain of lives lost during graduation season

Coming back from Houston last week, I was about to make the loop around Lufkin and just happened to notice a rotating billboard flash a message: “Always a Panther.” The picture that went with it was of a high school baseball player.

My first thought was that it was a graduation message by a proud parent, but of course it wasn’t. As I passed by Lufkin High School, the flags were at half-staff, so I began to do the research and found out the ugly truth.

Lance Modisette had been killed earlier in the week. He was driving a car that was traveling at a high rate of speed and struck a vehicle making a left turn into a private driveway on a hill just north of Nacogdoches.

Modisette had been a member of the Lufkin team – famously known as the “Thundering 13” — that won the Little League U.S. Championship in 2017. He went on to be a member of the Panthers baseball team. The words in the media account of the accident read: 

“He was scheduled to graduate next Friday with the Class of 2023.”

A few days later, Cameron Robbins, a pitcher at University Lab in Baton Rouge, was on a senior trip in the Bahamas. There was a sunset cruise involving a number of the trip participants. For whatever reason – reportedly on a dare — he jumped into the water and never surfaced. The Coast Guard called off the search two days later. The words in the media account of the story read: 

“Robbins had graduated just days earlier from the University Lab.”

Both are horrible, devastating events and a reminder of how precious life is. But for a couple of days, I couldn’t stop thinking about either one of them.

And then I realized why. It was the word “graduation.” One was about to graduate; one just had.

We think of high school graduation as one of the happiest times of a young person’s life. It is such a transition moment and a signal that the rest of your life is about to begin. Maybe it’s college or a job or the armed services, but for those who are about to graduate (or just have), there is no feeling like it.

Admittedly without knowing all of the details, it does appear that both made decisions that cost them their life. And in the case of Modisette, it also cost a 71-year-old woman in the oncoming vehicle her life as well.

Think about those fellow students on the Bahamas cruise who had to witness the events unfolding right in front of them. As a sign of times we live in, there is also a video of it.

Because his name sounded familiar, I went back and checked my scorebook from 2022 and discovered that I had actually seen Robbins pitch in a playoff game for the Cubs.

And I had watched the Lufkin Little League team – only about 100 miles from Shreveport — win the U.S. Championship that year (before losing to Japan in the finals).

The loss of life – no matter what the circumstances – for an 18- or 19-year-old is always tough to comprehend. Two young men — baseball players who had probably just played their last games on the diamond – were in the midst of such a joyous time in their lives.

It was a time to celebrate. Instead … 

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