It has been nearly a year since Lauren Dunne Astley was killed just weeks after graduating from Wayland High School.
In that year, there has been much healing and much activity around town to memorialize Astley’s young, but influential life.
But there hasn’t really been anything done at the high school where she spent four years with her closest friends and where so many students still there have fond memories of her.
In March, teacher David Schmirer began working with a group of students, most of them seniors and a few who graduated with Astley in 2011, who wanted to create a permanent reminder of Astley’s life at the school.
“There’s been a lot done in the community but they all wanted something tangible on campus,” he said.
Schmirer said the effort has been student-driven, but he helped in approaching administration about installing a memorial of some kind. What shape that memorial would ultimately take was the first step in the process.
“What do we want the effect of this to be?” Schmirer said the group asked. “The first thing that came up is ultimately this would be a celebration of her life, not a remembrance of her passing.”
Current senior Mackenzie Salitsky said the group wanted to stay away from traditional memorials and instead wanted something, “bright and sparkly.”
The group eventually settled on a glass tile mosaic that will be about 4-foot by 7-foot when complete and will hang in the courtyard of Wayland High School.
“The process of creating this has been really awesome,” Schmirer said. “This couldn’t have happened without the work that Maisie [Flynn] did.”
The group of students agreed that Flynn is really the only artist among the group, and it was her sketch, completed with the input of the group, that will be realized through the glass tiles.
But getting a paper sketch scaled and translated into a larger canvas took a professional touch. The group called upon Josh Winer, a former Wayland resident with plenty of connections to the town.
Schmirer said that Winer helped design the Monopoly board art at the old Wayland High School and had also been involved with creating the mosaic artwork at Wayland’s elementary schools.
“[Winer’s] vision was essential to this,” Schmirer said, adding that Winer worked with the group, teaching them how to cut the tiles and go about creating the mosaic so that the project would be entirely theirs. “He wanted to guide and assist, but not do.”
So with Winer’s help, and funding primarily from a group of anonymous donors, the students began putting the mosaic together.
From a distance, the mosaic sparkles with brightly colored tiles – many of them coral to represent Astley’s favorite color – that come together to form a sunset (or sunrise) scene.
“It’s unique and fun and not something you see every day,” said Genevieve Flynn, Maisie Flynn’s older sister and one of Astley’s close friends.
The sun itself is a daisy, Astley’s favorite flower, and features five petals (or rays) to represent Astley and her four closest friends.
The students have been the primary artists for the mosaic, but they said that many people, including several parents, teachers and even Astley’s parents, have stopped by the room at Wayland High School to contribute a tile or two.
“Everybody can come and put a piece in it,” said Hannah Blahut, who graduated with Astley. “Once Lauren died, it was very evident how many people she had touched.”
Because of Astley’s wide-reaching impact, the image is meant to be understandable for anyone who sees it, but those who knew Astley best will also notice some additional details.
Woven into the overall design are tiny remembrances of Astley: A music note to represent her love of singing, blueberries to showcase her favorite fruit, a Starbucks cup that represents all the time she spent at the coffee shop with her friends.
“It will portray her,” said Laura Vancil.
And beyond portraying her, the project has also served the purpose of helping those who knew Astley best to continue to heal from her tragic death.
Blahut said she was a little concerned about coming back to Wayland after being away at college for the past year, but “working with the people who knew her best,” had been a welcome opportunity.
The group will reveal the installed mosaic on June 16 during a public unveiling ceremony featuring a performance by the Wayland High School Muses, the a cappella group to which Astley belonged, and remarks from a few individuals.
“We want it to have as much as a celebratory tone as possible,” Schmirer said. “[The mosaic] looks outrageously good. It’s coming together really, really well.”
The unveiling ceremony will take place on June 16 from noon to 2 p.m. in the Wayland High School courtyard. The rain date is June 17.