By John Lee
Our lives will inevitably come across tough circumstances. These circumstances can range from failing a class to losing family, or from getting sick to saying goodbye to a friend. Though we often tend to rate these events on different ends of a spectrum, our initial reactions are the same: we feel hopeless, we wish to give up, and we put away our smiles.
On Jan. 31, 2015, a member of our Granada Hills Charter High School family passed away. Robert “Bobby” Quiñonez Jr. was in his senior year. He bled blue for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He loved listening to hip-hop and R&B. And, most of all, he remained positive, a quality that some would say grew, even when he lost his sight at the end of his first semester of tenth grade.
“He woke up ready to learn again,” Robert Palafox said. Palafox, one of the advisors at iGranada who worked one-on-one with Bobby, knew him very well and admired his ability to stay persistent. “Bobby always just wanted to start learning. He never let himself be brought down by what he went through. He would even joke around about his blindness. Whenever I said, ‘See you later, Bobby,’ his response was, ‘Hear you later.’ That cheerfulness would always lift the spirits of everyone else in the room,” Palafox said.
This attitude, so promising and confident, had a great impact on those around him. The students at the previously named Virtual Program (VP) all knew him, and his friends picked up on his habits, his assuredness, and his optimism.
Todd Wooton Jr., a senior runningback on our varsity football team, whom I interviewed before Bobby’s passing, forged an unbreakable bond with Bobby. The two came to our school in 2011. As students in the close-knit VP, the two nervous freshmen inevitably became acquaintances.
“I was new to high school and to VP, so all I wanted to do was make some friends as soon as possible,” Wooton said. When Bobby lost his eyesight, he was in need of someone to help him cope with the changes. This is when Wooton stepped in. “When Bobby became blind, his friends started to slowly fall away from him. I saw that and wanted to help,” Wooton said.
Thus began a friendship that many recognized and admired. Of course, Bobby received help from Wooton, who held his arm and guided him around campus as they talked about their day. Yet, as in any case of camaraderie, and especially with a person as amiable as Bobby, the benefits from this relationship were not one-sided.
“Sometimes I woke up and I just didn’t feel like coming to school,” Wooton said. “But then I remembered that Bobby’s at school and that he needs me, and that helped me get up in the morning. Bobby was just never down about anything.”
Both Palafox and Wooton mentioned Bobby’s bright smile. Having talked with Bobby once before, I noticed it as well. His smile wasn’t a conventional, perfectly aligned, bleached-white smile; it was modest, shy, yet simultaneously, confident. When he talked, whether about school or sports, he always had that grin on his face.
After I interviewed Bobby and Wooton, I watched Wooton stand up with his elbow already extended. Bobby reached out his hand and the two walked back to class together—not Wooton leading Bobby, but both supporting each other. Upon leaving the VP campus with its green grass and shade, I then realized something: on my face, I wore the very same smile.
People often describe the passing of a cancer patient as “losing the battle.” While cancer undoubtedly generates immense pain, I don’t think the analogy of war can apply to Bobby’s case. For someone who could poke fun at his own disabilities, for someone who could inspire others with the smallest of gestures, for someone who could smile in the face of blindness and ill health, this was no battle.
“Bobby embraced his blindness. He embraced how to walk with his cane. He embraced his teachers. He embraced fellow students,” Palafox said. “He embraced everything.”
Our lives will inevitably come across tough circumstances, but the same can be said for great ones. Instead of giving up, let us embrace our problems. Let us turn our tribulations into blessings. Let us transform our wounds and scars into wrinkles around our eyes and dimples on our cheeks.
Let us smile like Bobby.