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Lipsey principal: He will be forever part of your life

Principal Rita Robinson started the school year by challenging the sixth graders to be kind to one another.

It’s what their classmate Austin Edwards would have wanted.

Edwards died Memorial Day weekend in a mass shooting in Bogue Chitto that killed his teenage cousin and other three other members of his family as well as two friends of his family and a sheriff’s deputy.

The young boy with the bright smile would have started sixth grade Friday.

After the annual parade of fifth-graders down the sixth graders’ hallway, the older students headed to the gym for a special ceremony to honor Edwards as well as teacher Ricky Ward, who died in June.

The gym was unusually quiet as the students sat and listened to Robinson.

“I could not let our school year begin without taking a moment and reflecting back on our friends who we lost over the summer, Austin Joel Edwards and Mr. Ricky Gerald Ward.”

Robinson asked the students to honor Edwards’ memory by treating others respectfully

“It doesn’t take any more effort to be kind to each other,” she said. “Tomorrow’s not promised. We may not be here tomorrow, so I’m not going to leave without being positive.”

She encouraged them to remember Edwards through their next seven years of high school and beyond.

“He will be forever part of your life,” she said. “When you get ready to graduate Brookhaven High School, Austin Edwards will be there and you need to recognize that. He will always be part of this class and will always remain in our hearts.”

Robinson challenged the students to stand up to someone not honoring Edwards’ memory.

“You turn to them and say ‘Be kind,’” she said. “If you see somebody not having a great day, be kind. Act on it and say, ‘Hey, cheer up. It’s going to be OK. Can I help you with anything?’ We want Lipsey to be that place where you can look at any student in the hallway and you can find a friend there, and you can find a kind word there.”

After a few moments of silence for the student and teacher, Edwards’ mom, who was in the stands surrounded by family, spoke to her son’s classmates.

“I hope that you all keep Austin’s memory alive, remember him often, remember the fun times you had with him and not so fun times with him because that’s what we will be doing as a family,” she said.

Edwards said it was difficult to wake up Friday morning knowing it would have been her son’s first day of school.

“I realized that I was not going to get to take a picture of Austin’s first day,” she said. “I wasn’t going to get to hear him tell me he loved me or kiss me goodbye.”

Then she thought about his brother Caleb, 15, and sister, McKinley, 3, and how they would be missing their brother and their cousin, Jordan Blackwell.

And she thought about his classmates, who would miss him, too.

“So when you all go to class, remember what your parents tell you,” she said. “Do your best in school, listen to your teachers, be respectful. Because those are all the things and more I’d be telling Austin that I cannot tell him anymore.”

To close the program, the students, teachers and Edwards’ family released white balloons in the courtyard in the young boy’s memory.