Bittersweet Feelings on Newtown Graduation

Jun 14, 2024 | General

Parents Who Lost Kids in Sandy Hook Share ‘Bittersweet’ Feelings About Survivors’ Graduation (Exclusive) Read Full Story.

The surviving first graders of the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre are now graduating high school. And while the milestone is a celebratory one, it’s stirring complicated feelings of both joy and sorrow for the students and the parents of the 20 classmates who were killed 12 years ago.

For some, there is solace in seeing how life has gone on: Scarlett Lewis‘ son Jesse, 6, is said to have helped save classmates who are entering young adulthood.

High school graduation marks “a great day, because those kids that he saved lived for a reason,” Lewis says. “They have an incredible opportunity to use their experience and all that they’ve learned through living through that tragedy and use it for the benefit of others. I feel like that’s why we’re here … to help others.”

Though she sees Jesse’s classmates graduating from high school as a “great day,” Lewis says attending the ceremony — held on Wednesday, June 12 — could have been “too painful.”

Instead, she and her son JT did something “to honor Jesse on our own on that day,” she says.

It was 12 years ago that Lewis was first approached by police, informing her that her 6-year-old had died after urging classmates to run.

“It’s been really meaningful for me that the kids have acknowledged Jesse’s courage,” Lewis tells PEOPLE about the students who recalled Jesse’s bravery in his final moments.

Lewis — who started the Choose Love Movement in honor of Jesse — says it has been an “11-year-journey to find the solution” to societal problems like violence, substance abuse and mental health problems, but it is something she is willing to fight for for the rest of her life.

“We take what we’ve learned through our lived experience, both good and bad, and use it to help other people. That’s the world I want to live in. That’s what we call Choosing Love,” Lewis says.

“We all have the capacity for the courage that Jesse showed,” she says.