It doesn’t take eloquence or even a poetic prose to describe how truly amazing Tyler was. Thinking about Ty, at times, still puts me in tears. They aren’t the tears I’m used to shedding. These tears are of a different breed. These droplets slowly trickling down my cheek are full of a substance much greater than sorrow: gratitude.

Ty was one of a kind. He brought together a student body, a community, a nation. He broke our hearts and made memories with us we will never forget. He has changed the way we treat each other and shown us the beauty in singularity.

It was an honor getting to know Tyler Rathbun.

In elementary school I had never even met the guy. But even then I dreamed of following in his footsteps. I heard stories of his recess domination with a proliferation of goals over uneven patches of grass. I thought they couldn’t have been true. But they were.

As my skills of soccer progressed, I learned the rainbow, and figured it was time to hang up my little league cleats and make the jump to premiere soccer.

I had my heart set on becoming a KC Striker. Ty was a Striker, in fact the best player on the team. It was no coincidence. I wanted the honor of sharing the same field as him.

Middle school came and not only did I still look up to the guy, I finally got to meet him. Something was different about him. His contagious smile attracted the girls in flocks. He had the athleticism that all the guys envied, yet a humbleness they couldn’t help but admire. It’s safe to say he was the coolest guy in school and also the nicest, two accolades that usually don’t come hand in hand.

But he was Ty, and he rewrote the rules.

He showed us it isn’t what clothes you wear. It isn’t how talented you are. It’s not about what parties you’ve been to. Friendship is about the smiles, the laughter, the fun and the loyalty. It’s about compassion. Ty showed each and everyone of us what true friendship is all about.

He left some big shoes to fill.

Squeaking foot after foot down the hallway with his fresh set of velcro kicks, Ty simply wasn’t a casual high-five or a subtle head nod type of guy. He was too goofy for that. Passing period resulted in too many back slaps and firm handshakes to count, each quickly punctuated by his trademarked “hey cutie” as he walked off. I never could keep a straight face, little exchanges like those made my day. No matter how hard I tried, a smile always lit up my face.

He brightened the gloomy windowless walls of room 308 the second he set foot inside the door. To put things in perspective, I’d almost rather clean my room than listen to an entire block day of notes. The word “notes” used to make me cringe just thinking about the hand cramps and the information overload associated with them. With that in mind, I’d say Ty and I were practically brothers in combat, battle tested with hours upon hours of monotonous U.S. History lectures. It was a two semester war–if only it could have been longer.

I used to look forward to notes with Ty.

When NAACP knowledge came lingering towards us from the front of the room, Ty would shield me from the brainwashing by changing the subject to a more captivating acronym: W.o.W. He would tell stories of the days he went without sleep just to level-up his character in World of Warcraft. All the while he would refer to his friends by their mystical demon-slaying usernames and talk about raids and quests I didn’t have the slightest clue about. He knew he sounded like a nerd, but that’s what made him so special: he wasn’t afraid to be himself.

Although I was drowning in his computer-gamer speak we had our similarities. For instance we both not so secretly wished our last name was Shakur. We both went through our thug stages as privileged Johnson County kids. I donned my flat bills and temporary tattoos; but they were no match for his doo-rags and real-life cornrows. 2pac would have looked up to Ty. His hit song “Changes” begs for people to change the way they treat each other, to love each other.

Ty did just that.

Ty made the best out of every situation. He could even break up the monotony of any physics lab. If our grades were reflected by the fun we had partnering up during labs, they were undoubtedly inversely related.

We always had “difficulty” determining the influence of our independent variable.

For instance, in a lab measuring the impulse it takes to reach an egg’s breaking point, we dropped an egg from desk height. It broke. It ruined our results and our grade along with it. But miraculously the egg had retained all of its yolk in the lower half of the shell that remained. Ty glanced at this phenomenon before our eyes and then to me with his wide-mischievous grin, “You dare me to drink all of that egg yolk?” he said. I quickly shot back with a 5 dollar bet calling his outrageous bluff. He salvaged a time soon to be full of frustration and replaced it with hysterical laughter, he even made some money out of it.

Ty was that independent variable.

I’ll never be able to measure the amount he has impacted my life, and that isn’t due to my scientific faults. He’s given me the insight I need to help make the world a better place, just as he did. He’s shown me the blissful highs and the sullen lows. He’s taught me to cherish; to love. He’s taught me lessons I will never forget.

You were so much more than a friend; you were a role model and with those feet that scored incredible goals, you also left footprints. Footprints I will follow for the rest of my life.
#RIPTR