Thursday, October 24, 2013

Colleen Ritzer: Find Something Good in Every Day

Colleen Ritzer, in the classroom, of course.

Colleen Ritzer, a 24-year-old math teacher at Danvers High School died Tuesday, almost certainly killed by one of her students. A freshman at the school has been arrested and charged as an adult in her murder. A box-cutter is said to be the weapon.

It may be this tragedy will spark discussion about “the failure of modern America society” to raise healthy children. Or we might veer from the story in Danvers, to look at gun violence, generally, since a Nevada teacher, Michael Landsberry, 45, was gunned down the day before.

Or we may link these incidents to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary last December. The killers, or suspects, this week were in ages: 12 and 14.

Instead, we should remember Ms. Ritzer.

Who was this dedicated young teacher? She grew up in Andover, Massachusetts, one of three children, with one younger brother and one younger sister. In 2007, she graduated from Andover High, knowing she wanted to go into education. Four years later she graduated magna cum laude from Assumption College where she majored in math. Her minor was psychology and her understanding of human nature seems deep and clear from what we hear.

Ritzer was an avid baker. She was a fan of the New England Patriots, the Boston Bruins and the Red Sox. (She’d probably be celebrating their win last night had her life not been cut short.) She liked country music and the color pink.

Jennifer Berger, her long-time friend spent most of last Saturday shopping with Ritzer, as she searched for Halloween greeting cards. That night they baked treats together. “She was telling me that she was having a good year,” Berger said. “She loved all her classes.” She was “an aspiring mom searching for the right guy,” Berger added.

A search now ended.

Colleen was a positive, caring person. In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing last April, Ms. Ritzer posted a quote from Mr. Rogers on her Facebook page, by way of her mother. The words have even greater poignancy now. “I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

“This world is a crazy place. Love who you love and live every day.”

Ritzer was one of the helpers.

On Sept. 11, she posted again, noting that she was “always thinking of the innocent victims…and the loved ones left behind who live in their light every day.”

Like most 20-somethings, Ritzer left a broad electronic footprint behind. She put up a Facebook page for her classes (overwhelmed by traffic today). She started a blog once but like many didn’t keep it going.
Still, her warm tribute to her grandfather (see below) is telling both about subject and author. Colleen was also active on Twitter. In one telling tweet she identified herself as a “math teacher often too excited about the topics I’m teaching.”

Other times she contacted students to wish them “happy birthday,” or posted assignments for her geometry and algebra classes, or commented on life in general. Her enthusiasm is palpable, making her loss seem doubly tragic.

As a retired teacher, this tweet resonated forcefully with me: “Now that the school year is in full swing, so are my weekly Target visits. #obsessed.”

You know that this young lady was out there—willing to spend extra to buy supplies and prizes and materials for her class.

On October 5, she tweeted: “Find something good in every day.”

According to the Boston Globe, students had come to know the second-year teacher “as smart, gracious, and persistent, as diligent about grading their geometry problem sets as helping to ground them amid the turbulence of adolescence.”
Sophomore McKenzie Plaza described the raven-haired teacher as “lighthearted, kind, and genuinely nice.”
“She was always smiling, and she really loved what she did and loved working with us,” said Plaza, who had Ritzer as a homeroom teacher.
“She gave off the impression that you could talk to her about anything. You just enjoyed her presence.”

What a loss.

Riley Doyle, a freshman in one of Ritzer’s classes, told a reporter for CBS that her teacher “was always really upbeat and positive and excited about math.”
“She made every lesson like you wanted to learn it,” Riley added. “For the first time, math became one of my favorite classes.”
“She was always very courteous to her students, and she would never talk down to them,” Riley continued. “She treated them like people.”

I suspect that Ritzer was not really so different from tens of thousands of young teachers toiling away today. Really, Colleen Ritzer reminds us there’s plenty good about this coming generation and nothing wrong that wasn’t wrong with all the generations that came before. It's the human condition. Certainly, she was always ready to come in early and stay late to help students who needed math instruction or needed advice on how to survive adolescence.

If we listen in days to come we will surely hear more about her. And we should. Colleen Ritzer was a dedicated teacher, a kind-hearted human being, and would surely have told you that the world is full of good people.

Mary Duffy, a neighbor who watched her grow up over the last twenty-four years, was overcome by sobbing when she heard the news. She described Ritzer for a reporter from the Andover Townsmen:
“She was a quiet, unassuming girl with a beautiful smile. She was a lovely child.”
“I love the family and they have a beautiful family. If every family throughout America was like that, there would be no trouble. It would be utopia.”

It’s not a utopia, though. That’s the tragedy of life, most tragically for the Ritzer family now. Still, from what I gather, Colleen would probably have a hard time mustering up any hate even for the young man who killed her.

If she had lived she’d probably be ready to help him.

Colleen Ritzer, 24, was by all accounts a wonderful young woman.

What a loss.

Thank you, grandpa.

Over the past few weeks, our family has experienced the tragedy of watching the strongest man we know lose his battle with cancer. I will not say that we watched him give up strength, because along this heartbreaking journey, he never gave up one bit of it.

My courageous, hard-working, devoted 89-year-old grandfather exemplified the meaning of strength. Experiencing several health complications throughout the course of his lifetime, he fought through each and every one of them. He was not ready to go, and he was determined to let the world know that. He wanted to be here, to live a little longer, and it was that desire and strength that allowed him to live a prosperous 89 years. So, for that,thank you grandpa, for showing us all what it means to be strong in the most difficult of times.

Thank you for showing us what it means to love. To love life. To love your family. To love all that you have. Your sense of pride was magnificent. In the countless stories you shared with us, you never shared any stories of regret. You lived your life to the fullest. You made your dreams come true. You did not believe for one second that life was something you should look back on with regrets, but rather look back on and realize what you want to do differently in the future. Realize which dreams you really want to follow. Most importantly, you taught us to never let a setback cause us to give up on our dreams.

In the last few weeks of your journey of life, I will never forget the way you woke from your sleep and said to my mom, “I’m hanging in there”. Hanging in there; that’s what you did your entire life, right up until the very end.

So, we will hang in there for you. We will live our lives with no regrets, so that we can tell our grandchildren stories the way that you told us stories.

Thank you for the stories, for sharing your life with all of us.

And above all, thank you for hanging in there.

May you finally receive the rest that you so very much deserve. We love you and will miss you every day.

Ritzer had a sense of humor, too.

Tribute from students.


  1. The world lost a bright light and we are all living in a darker world because of it. So very sad. My best wishes to her family and friends.

  2. Thanks very interesting blog!