By Santiago Rizzo
I’m here to tell you how Tim and I became family. I first met Tim at Willard Middle School in the seventh grade. At the time, Tim was an English and History teacher as well as director of the after school athletics program. Tim gave a sports program presentation in my home room class. I followed him out of my class (without permission of course) and I asked him if I was too small for the football team. He laughed at me and that’s what sparked his initial interest in me. I made the team but Tim says I was cut the next year for throwing a rock at one of the coaches during tryouts. Chris Robison, was that you or Tim?
At 12 years old, I had been suspended MULTIPLE times; I was on the road to expulsion. I was heavily addicted to graffiti … my tag was just about everywhere in the East Bay. I had been arrested several times, had been in juvenile hall for a night, and was about to get put on probation. I spent more time on the street than I did at home because the street felt safer to me. I was in deep need of approval and attention and like many at risk youth, I was searching for acceptance.
At Willard, I was still plenty of trouble. For example, Tim felt obligated to kick me off the wrestling team after I refused to shake an opponent’s hand that had just beaten me. Have you guys ever seen Tim actually yell? It’s rare, but I’ve seen him yell.
According to Tim (he wrote me a eight page letter before I left for college which I re read last week) it wasn’t until Jeremy hired me to clean the baseball field that we became such great friends. Supposedly I did a better job than anyone else they had hired and I refused payment when I knew it was from Tim.
Tim always believed that “if a kid has at least one redeeming quality then he/she is redeemable.” I guess the day I refused payment was the day he decided I was redeemable.
Most people would have viewed a kid like me as a “lost cause”, someone who needed to be whipped into shape, or locked up. Tim on other hand, saw that I needed more kindness and productive things to do. He didn’t believe there was such thing as a bad kid, only bad situations.
I continued to get into lots of trouble and act out at school, but Tim became an advocate and instead of suspending or throwing me in detention, he gave me jobs to do. And he would reward me for the work by taking me out to eat, taking me to Call and Giants games, teaching me to drive. Do any of you remember the Oldsmobile clunker he used to have? Well that’s the car I learned how to drive with. One of the jobs was to count the school money from a dance that took place in this very room. Let me make this clear. He gave me a box full of money, the key to his classroom so I could lock myself inside and told me to count it. He trusted me a time in my life when I didn’t trust ANYONE. I reciprocated that trust when I told him about “bad situation” and I told him about all of my problems at home. (My mother is here and I love her dearly but it was chaos back then. Tim even helped heal these relationships). It was about this time that Tim put his reputation on the line and stopped me from getting expelled by telling Ms. Davis (the vice principal at the time) that he would go to the board with me if she tried to expel me. Tim also helped me from getting put on probation (one of his friends was the Berkeley police officer assigned to deal with me).
Tim also became a taxi driver for me. He would get me where ever at any time of the day or night. And after a couple of nasty fights with my step father, he invited me to sleep on his couch.
By the ninth grade, I ended up moving in with Tim. I was still very upset at the world and in pain and Tim bore whatever anger and skepticism I had at the time. I also wondered if he had inappropriate motives, so I was meaner to Tim than any person he must have ever known. Yet, STILL he didn’t judge me and was patient with me.
In his letter, he wrote, “Kids are entitled to be kids… For most kids, someone is making their decisions for them. By the time I met you, you were already making your own. I couldn’t change that unless you wanted and told me to, and you did the opposite. So, I could only give advice and subtle guidance, watch you make mistakes that I anticipated, and hope you learned without too many disasters.” And Tim did watch me make many mistakes.
When I was 15, I crashed a car the day after we bought it together and totaled our neighbor’s volvo.
The house was broken into as I participated in a commonly illegal endeavor in high school in sales. Instead of kicking me out of the house, he offered me $1000 to get straight A’s that semester and I never looked back.
He overwhelmed me with kindness and we spent hours each night helping process my past and focus on my future. I eventually completely quit graffiti. I no longer needed the recognition because I had Tim’s attention. We were the closest of friends back then. Tim wrote the first draft of our screenplay about this time of our lives that we envisioned shooting in Berkeley. One of Tim’s biggest regrets is not being able to see our screenplay on film, but one way or another I will eventually make our movie for him.
I worked really hard in high school, became student body president my junior year, did what I had to do, and without his approval, I got a full scholarship to Stanford. To the day he died, Tim still couldn’t say he was glad I graduated from Stanford, but I could tell he was proud of me.
Over the years, Tim continued to help me and be my friend, so much that I had to come back to Berkeley this past year to be with him in his final year, and now, I look at what I have accomplished in my life and see that none of it would be possible without Tim’s love. Without him, really, I have no idea where I would be. He has taught me the real lessons of trust and love and he has been my saint.
In closing, I would like to give you some of the lessons in trust and love by reading to you Tim’s top ten principles to live by. He gave me the list and told me his comments before he died. Please close your eyes and imagine Tim saying these words to you, because they are his words and I know he would want you to hear them.
1) Have Empathy for Everyone.
-If you remember or read Tim’s favorite book, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, you’ll learn from Atticus Finch. “Crawl in someone else’s skin and walk around in it.”
2) Tell the Truth.
-When you tell the truth you have less to remember. You know you never lied and eventually everyone will trust you.
3) Be Reliable.
-Do what you say you are going to do, even if it means showing up on time. People will trust you.
4) Assume Positive Intent.
-Assume everything everyone does is with good intentions. If they are incompetent, so be it, but it doesn’t hurt you to assume they are doing their best. You will be able to understand their actions when you don’t judge.
5) Be Physically Active.
-It’s better than any drugs. It’s fun; it can be a big boon in your social life. If you are running an errand, walk or ride a bike because you will feel better. It may not be obvious at first, but it adds up.
6) Just Do It.
-If the choice is between sitting around and doing nothing or doing something, do something every single time.
7) Don’t Blame Anyone.
-THIS IS KEY. No one is to blame for anything. Only you can change what you do. If you blame someone else then you can’t solve the problem… instead, you are telling someone else to solve the problem. If you don’t blame other people then you will be able to take control.
8) Your Possessions Can Be Replaced.
-People are obsessed with their possessions. It’s a terrible way of living by letting your possessions control you. When you let go of your possessions, you become free. There’s little relationship between wealth and happiness.
9) Carpe Diem.
-“Seize the Day.” Accomplish something everyday, otherwise you are wasting time. There’s always something wonderful to experience, go do it.
10) Solve Your Problems.
-Some people like to have problems so that they have something to complain about. Don’t waste time. It also gives you something to do, something to strive for.
Please open your eyes.
I would Tim up there with the Dalai Lama, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, or Mother Teresa any day. He’s got that kind of character.
Tim taught me that if we live by these principles then we can be as good as any of these people we put on a pedestal, and Tim was living proof of that.
We can all have a little more compassion.
We can all think about how to positively impact the world around us.
We can certainly practice random acts of kindness.
We are all capable of having more empathy.
Have a little more patience; Judge a little less, especially kids.
I, for one, can give back a lot more.
And all of us who have been touched by Tim owe it to ourselves to give more freely.
If we do these things and give unconditional love, then Tim is not gone.
He will be alive in our schools, in our communities, and in our hearts.
He will be omnipresent for generations to come.
As long as he inspires us to live by these principles then he will ALWAYS be with us.
Thank you for listening.