Draven McGill, 17, was the beloved son of Dublin residents Tammy and Phil McGill. But he left behind more than one family when he died in the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland -- he was also a student at San Francisco’s Ruth Asawa School of the Arts (SOTA).
“This was his family,” said the school’s Director of Vocal Arts Kristen Grzeca at a recent memorial concert for McGill, one of 20 vocal students in the junior class.
Grzeca spoke to me and a few television reporters before the concert. But she kept choking up mid-sentence, overwhelmed by her emotions. “I’m sorry,” she said to the TV cameras, “I hope you can edit this out."
After a long pause, Grzeca regained her composure and continued. “I’ll always remember him for his humor and his authenticity,” she said. “He was a huge fan of electronic dance music. He was a huge fan of hip-hop, and he was also a classically trained singer, but those worlds weren’t separate for him.”
The memorial concert made that clear. It featured songs that were some of McGill’s favorites, choral works and two movements from Brahms' German Requiem, about the “joy that comes after terrible grief,” Grzeca said.
Students didn't talk to reporters, but three of McGill’s friends performed songs they’d written as memorials for McGill. Classmate Evan Tiapula led the school’s concert choirs in a setting of the poem "Turn Again to Life" by Mary Lee Hall. The poem features these reassuring lines:
If I should die, and leave you here awhile
Be not like others sore undone, who keep
Long vigils by the silent dust and weep.
For my sake, turn again to life, and smile,
Nerving thy heart and trembling hand to do
Something to comfort weaker hearts than thine.
Complete these dear unfinished tasks of mine,
And I, perchance, may therein comfort you!
And then the choir sang a song by junior Nick Main, another of McGill’s friends.
“So sorry,” said the lyrics, “my heart goes out to you. I will always remember all those times we sang together, all those beautiful memories. Your life along with many others will not be forgotten.”
The concert hall on the school of arts campus was packed with parents and students, and many, like Dina LeFeat, were crying. McGill and Julian Granados, LeFeat’s son, were inseparable, she said, “and so good for each other.”
They spent a lot of time listening to '70s rock and roll, LeFeat said, “and eating a lot of cookies.”
“He was just a great kid,” LeFeat said, touching her eyes with a tissue.