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Even in the frigid cold, Courtney Tomkin warmed the hearts of her fellow classmates and staff at Hauppauge High School.
At 11:53 a.m. Tuesday, with the flag at half-staff and the wind blowing, the hearse carrying Tomkin drove past hundreds of students who quietly and respectfully lined up along the driveway at their high school – and her high school, too. School officials temporarily halted classes as the procession went by.
Some students shivered as they silently wept. Others held onto one another as the 17-year-old student, who died Saturday of brain cancer, made her final trip to the school before the hearse drove to the burial.
“She is by far the strongest person I’ve ever met,” said Jesseca Kulesa, head coach for the girl’s varsity soccer team and a health teacher. “She had been out for six weeks in the spring, and she made every single assignment up. She never let anything slip.”
Although she never played soccer for Hauppauge High School, Tomkin was the team’s biggest fan, attending almost every game to cheer them on. She became so much a part of the team, Kulesa said, that the team ran a “Kicks for Cancer” fundraiser in her honor in October, raising $30,000 for the Making Headway Foundation and the American Cancer Society.
Even students at the district’s middle school showed their respect, wearing the pink “Kicks for Cancer” T-shirts, or other pink shirts, to honor the perky high school senior, said a district spokeswoman Pam Donovan. Those who knew her said she managed to always keep her smile, even through the roughest part of her illness.
“I don’t think I ever saw her sad or upset,” said Alexis Gonzalez, Tomkin’s close friend and organizer of the fundraiser. “I know that she has made me a better person, and that I have a better outlook on life because of her. . . . She has earned her wings, and now she’s an angel.”
Principal Christine O’Connor said Tomkin was a top student. Even during her illness, she took honors and Advanced Placement courses. “She was an inspiration to all of us,” O’Connor said.
“We are so proud at the way this community has pulled together,” said Superintendent Patricia Sullivan-Kriss, adding that Tomkins was especially well-loved by the close-knit students and staff, and that “we lost one of our daughters.”