Mineola High School students lined Armstrong Road in front of the school last Thursday to see off one of their own.
Christian Melendez, 18, died on Dec. 24 from injuries he sustained in a car accident days earlier in Williston Park. His classmates, teachers, friends and family gathered on what would have been his 19th birthday to celebrate his life.
The events commemorating Melendez began with a sunrise vigil at the school’s soccer field. At noon, hundreds of students filed out of school and crowded the sidewalks flanking the road, already teeming with cars lined up behind the hearse that took Melendez to his final resting place at Nassau Knolls Cemetery in Port Washington.
After the procession, a memorial soccer game was held at the field by his teammates and alumni who returned for the day.
“To all of you, live like a champion,” Jose Melendez, Christian’s father, told the crowd of supporters.
The phrase has been adopted by the school following Melendez’s death, and T-shirts are being sold with the phrase and his soccer number, 10, on a red and white shield. Three hundred have been sold, and more are being ordered, according to school officials. Profits from the sales of the shirts will go toward a scholarship fund in Melendez’s honor, school officials said.
Counselors and support staff have been available to students over the winter break, high school Principal Whittney Smith said in a statement posted to Twitter.
“In the coming weeks we will continue to address student needs as well as coordinating a community wide effort to pay tribute and create a fitting memorial for this fine young man,” Smith said.
Melendez was co-captain of the school’s varsity soccer team.
“This last week and a half has been devastatingly painful for our community,” high school social studies teacher Paul Pereira said in a statement. Pereira, Melendez’s coach, knew him since he was a freshman on the varsity boys’ soccer team in the fall of 2015, and also serves as the Village of Mineola’s deputy mayor.
“Beyond his accomplishments on the field, Christian was an exceptional young man with so much promise,” Pereira said. Melendez was competitive but embodied the best of sportsmanship, and was funny and seemingly “in a perpetual good mood,” Pereira said.
“I will always cherish my memories of Christian,” Pereira said.
Melendez’s death is a tragedy, Superintendent Michael Nagler said, but the support from the school and community have been outstanding.
“The soul of a community is its school system,” Nagler said at the Mineola Board of Education’s meeting Thursday night, following the day’s events. “When tragedy occurs, what is the response of the schools.”
“I’m very proud that we supported each other, we were able to grieve together, we cried, we listened, we came together to try to reconcile the unthinkable loss of a student,” Nagler said.
“But ultimately we celebrated Christian’s life and his impact on his school community, and we’ll continue to do that for him, and his family and his classmates, throughout the year.”