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A hero lives on

While the West community lost student Peyton Hayes last year, his memory lives on in the hallways through a plaque commemorating his life.

Anjali Huynh, Reporter

Peyton Hayes' father, Darrin Hayes, addresses the audience.

Although Peyton Hayes’ big smile and undying optimism no longer brighten the hallways of West High, his legacy continues to thrive within the school community.

Peyton passed away on Sept. 21, 2016 due to a rare heart condition he had battled since birth. A year later, the Eilderts family, close friends of the Hayes’, donated a plaque to West to commemorate Peyton’s life.

“My husband Jason and I are really close friends of Darrin and Jen [Hayes],” Heather Eilderts said. “I knew that this absolutely had to be at West High so we just kind of made it all happen. I think this is a good place for this.”

The school administration was well receiving of this gift and plans for it to hang across from the main office.

“When we were contacted by the family about an appropriate tribute…we’ve been happy to do these kinds of things,” principal Dr. Shoultz said. “We love to honor the memory of our students, and we thought there was no better way to make sure he has a permanent presence in West’s past… and just spread the life that he brought wherever he went, and hopefully, it will stay with us.”

A service was held in the Little Theatre on Tuesday, Sept. 26 to unveil the plaque and hold a memorial for those close to Peyton. At this service, West students and faculty had the chance to hear from Dr. Shoultz, Peyton’s father, Darrin Hayes and family friend, Heather Eilderts.

Darrin Hayes shared stories demonstrating the selflessness and kindness his son possessed, recounting the brighter moments in Peyton’s life. For example, when a little boy was about to undergo his first heart surgery, Peyton readily gave up his prized Dodge Hellcat toy.

“Peyton had asked the nurse if he could give this boy his radio controlled car,” Darrin recollected. “I asked him, ‘Why did you do that? You’ve been cooped up here in bed, you could’ve sat in bed and drove this car around the room.’ He just smiled and looked at me and said, ‘He needed it more than I did, Dad.’ This is who Peyton was: selfless.”

Peyton’s charismatic traits and unwavering cheerfulness are just a few things that are missed by everyone who knew him.

“Peyton did not lose his battle: he won in the way that he lived his life,” Darrin said. “If you knew Peyton, you knew it was hard to be in a bad mood when he was in the room,” he added. “There was no hatred in his heart. He didn’t care if you were black, white, red or green or if you were rich or poor; he just cared if you were doing okay. To me and many others, Peyton will always be a hero.”

After presenting the plaque, Heather Eilderts, mother of West student Guinevere Eilderts ‘20, provided insight to Peyton’s life as well.

“Though he never wore it openly, his cape was there for those who looked,” she said. “After 16 years, it was worn and frayed on the edges, but it was there just the same. Most could not see it, just as they could not see his strength in his small frame: the strength of a hero. Peyton Hayes defined what it meant to be a hero. He overcame great obstacles, put others before himself, and fought for what was right. Peyton showed that strength goes beyond a person’s size, that it springs from within.”

Not only did Peyton fight a serious heart condition his entire life, but he also faced bullying. However, he made the courageous decision to speak up against it – something that those like Eilderts admired.

“For someone that could have easily given up, could have pitied himself and stayed in the shadows, he instead stood up for what was right and defended those that could not defend themselves,” Eilderts remarked. “Anytime a West High student stands up against a bully, anytime a student makes the choice to do the right thing, if you look closely, you will see Peyton’s cape.”

 

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A hero lives on