When Grade 12 students Madison Thomas and Morgan Keetch were planning their big year-end senior project at Leo Hayes High School in Fredericton, they knew exactly what they wanted.
Not just any party. The two young women wanted a party with a purpose.
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Morgan and Madison wanted to pay tribute to a former student who touched the lives of many.
And they wanted to warn other kids at school about binge drinking.
They’re inviting hundreds of people to their big event Tuesday, a benefit concert in memory of Brady Grattan.
Brady, 18, died just over a year ago in Alberta after a drinking game.
‘I was shocked because it really because it wasn’t something we expected to hear that morning in English class.’– Morgan Keetch
He was discovered unconscious in a rubber dinghy in the basement.
His heart stopped beating in the ambulance and paramedics revived him.
He died a week later
Morgan, who knew Brady through mutual friends, remembers the day a teacher told the class he had died.
“We were talking about current events,” she said. “And my English teacher taught Brady and she had mentioned his death and she was asking if anybody knew him in the school.
Could have been her
“And a lot of people knew him in the class and around the school. I was shocked because it wasn’t something we expected to hear that morning in English class.”
It hit Morgan especially hard because she realized how easily it could have been her.
She celebrated her 16th birthday with a night of binge drinking and ended up in hospital.
“I was drinking beer and hard liquor and taking shots of things I had never drank before and it was not a good idea, just not a good decision on my part,” she said.
She was dating someone two years older and spending time with his friends.
“And like they say, one drink leads to another, and as soon as I knew it I was in a hospital bed. I woke up and I had no idea what had happened the night before.”
Mother in tears
What Morgan will never forget is the scene around her that morning, with an IV in her arm, her mother in tears, and her boyfriend and a young woman she didn’t know nearby.
“She was the one who had said, ‘She needs to go to the hospital,'” Morgan said of the unknown visitor.
“If it weren’t for my boyfriend and that girl who had helped me that night, I would not be standing here right now.”
Binge drinking, Madison added, takes place at high school parties more often than parents might think.
And not many students ever think about the worst that could happen.
‘Just because you drink doesn’t mean you’re the cool kids.’– Madison Thomas
“I think the biggest thing with our society is keeping up with your friends and following the older people, so peer pressure is a huge thing,” Madison said.
She wants to deliver a message to younger students who see drinking as a way to fit in.
“Just because you drink doesn’t mean you’re the cool kids.”
The other message both girls hope to get across is the importance of friendship.
“Be there for your friends,” Madison said. “Don’t trick them into doing things.”
Set up scholarship
Madison and Morgan outlined their proposed for year-end project to Leo Hayes principal Brad Sturgeon.
They wanted to organize a benefit concert with top local talent and use the proceeds to set up a scholarship in memory of Brady. That way, they figured, students would remember how he died and might make changes in their own lives.
Sturgeon told them it was an admirable goal, but they would need the blessing of Brady’s parents, still deep in grief.
Tracey Grattan, a supply education assistant at Leo Hayes, said the year since Brady died has been a long, dark one, with some happy moments.
‘Every day, he’s there’
“It is a life sentence is what it is,” she said. “Every day, he is attached to every day, every thought. Every day, he’s there.”
Tracey remembers the day Morgan and Madison told her about their proposal. It was a happy moment.
“I was honoured and so touched.”
That night, Corey Grattan could hardly believe what he was hearing when his wife described the proposal to him at supper.
“She was telling the names they had picked of local entertainers and stuff. And I was like, are you sure? Like are they going to be able to pull this off?”
Morgan and Madison told the Grattans that award-winning country artist Tristan Horncastle, Steve Waylon and Tyler Deveau had already agreed to appear.
Corey, too, was touched by the girls’ plans.
‘If we can touch one family’
“Our big thing is if we can touch one family,” Corey said. “And we can save one kid, or a university student from going out and, just when they get caught up in the moment, remembering Brady’s story, so they can stop the drinking.
“Or tell somebody ‘Don’t do that, I knew a young fella that did that, and he died.'”
Morgan Keetch and Madison Thomas said they’ve learned far more than they expected from their senior project: about mounting a full-scale concert, booking the talent and the venue and then trying to fill 600 seats.
‘Remember the good things’
But most important, Madison said, they’ve learned why so many people care about Brady, and why it’s so important to look after each other when alcohol becomes part of the mix.
“We don’t want it to be a sad night,” she said. “We want to remember all the good things.
“We want people to have fun, but also get the message that you have to be careful when you’re drinking.”
The concert is Tuesday, May 16, at 7 p.m. at the Tom Morrison Theatre at Fredericton High School. Tickets are $5 for students and $10 for adults.