It’s not like Aimee Bray to feel down. But on what would’ve — no, should’ve —been prom night, she sat at home playing Yahtzee with her family instead of dancing in a fancy dress with her friends.
That’s when everything hit for the high school senior, who like others across Colorado Springs and the country, felt like she was missing out on the final weeks, and biggest moments, of the best year of her life.
On that April evening, Aimee turned to her guitar, like she did so many times during her four years at Lewis-Palmer. She wrote her first song — called “Falling Asleep with a Broken Heart” — as a freshman, strumming on a pink guitar her mom found at a garage sale.
“Some guy broke my heart and I wrote a song about it and I decided that was my way of coping,” Aimee, 18, said. “Ever since then, whenever I’m sad or happy, I write a song about it.”
This time was different. She thought other high school seniors might need a way to cope, too, with the coronavirus crisis canceling all the big moments.
“I just wanted to do something for everyone,” Aimee said. “It wasn’t just about me, because we were all going through it.”
She put out a call to her classmates on Instagram and Snapchat, writing, “Hi, I need your help. I have an idea about writing a song. I want to write it with only the words of others’ feelings.”
She asked a broad question: Tell me how you’re feeling.
The shower of responses surprised Aimee. So did the variety, from funny to simple to very vulnerable. Lots of people simply said, “Sad.” Some typed out full verses. They missed sports and their friends. They wished it didn’t have to end this way.
Some got more personal.
Aimee heard from an acquaintance who said they never really fit in at school. Another said, “I never have anyone to call with good news and no one calls me with theirs.”
“I didn’t know some of the people that were telling me these things,” Aimee said. “So it was really special to have these people tell me their really personal thoughts.”
Something from every response went onto a note in her iPhone. Aimee pieced the song together while sitting on a couch in her living room. Her mother, Leslee, sat across from her and served as a sounding board.
“She’s never asked me for advice on a song before,” Leslee Bray said. “I think it’s because they weren’t her words. She wanted to honor what people were saying.”
The touching song, called “Dear High School,” soon told the wide-ranging, and specific, story of what it’s like to have your final school year cut short because of the coronavirus pandemic. The feelings are all over the place, like the lyrics say: “Goodbyes are never easy and that’s OK, I won’t let it take away from all the happy and the sad and all the between.”
“Even though it was thoughts from a whole bunch of different people, I think everyone can relate to everything that I said,” Aimee said.
It’s relatable for students, sure. And beyond.
The song has been viewed thousands of times on social media.
“I’ve never had people tell me they cried to my songs or how much it means to them,” Aimee said. “It was crazy all these people wanted to listen to it and I didn’t even know them.”
Lewis-Palmer principal Bridget O’Connor is one of those who shed a tear or two. After Aimee sent her the song — and the accompanying music video full of photos of students — O’Connor sat on her front porch and wept. She still can’t listen to it without crying.
“To have one of your own students encapsulate everything everyone is feeling, but in a positive way,” O’Connor said. “It’s what you hope for in a graduate.”
She asked Aimee to sing “Dear High School” live at the student-only graduation ceremony June 12 at UCHealth Park. O’Connor says Aimee’s performance will be late in the ceremony, which will be livestreamed, because of, you know, all of the crying the song provokes.
When the principal hears it now, she has most of the words memorized. She hangs onto each verse, each good or bad thing her students were feeling.
“As an adult, we forget how important all of those things are and to not be able to do anything about it is super frustrating,” O’Connor said. “Then it’s so inspiring for me to see; like no offense to the parents, but the students have handled this situation way better.”
“They’re resilient,” she added. “This class in particular at (Lewis-Palmer) is really connected. The fact that they’re still connected and banding together and doing things like this... it gives you hope for the future.”
These students, O’Connor says, are not at all stuck on the sorrow of it all. That’s not the class of 2020 that she knows.
And that’s not Aimee, who smirks and stares into your eyes when she plays a song for you and who doesn’t take missing prom night or senior night too seriously. She’s quick to say, “It’s not just me who’s missing out on something, so it’s OK.”
When it’s her mother who’s watching Aimee play, Leslee thinks, “Where’d she get that talent?” When she listens to her daughter sing “Dear High School,” she thinks, “I hope I can be like her when I grow up. She’s my hero.”
Leslee describes her youngest child as “the most positive person.” Especially in recent months.
“She was never, ‘Woe is me,’” Leslee said. “She was always of the mindset that somebody has it worse.”
It reminds her of the story behind her daughter’s name. She and her husband originally planned to name their baby girl Chloe. But after she was born on Sept. 11, 2001, Leslee thought the world needed more love. So they decided to name her after the French word for love. It has proved fitting for the young woman, who loves to write love songs in the vein of Taylor Swift or Gnash, whose most-know hit is called “I hate u, I love u.”
That could’ve been the title of Aimee’s song. She seriously considered “The Whole World is Sad.”
But that didn’t quite capture all that happened — or didn’t happen — in her high school hallways.
One of the most poignant lines from “Dear High School” is inspired by what that acquaintance wrote to Aimee about not fitting in. It goes, “Looking back on it, I just wish I would’ve talked to the girl who didn’t talk a lot, because now I’ll never know who she was or what she could’ve meant to me.”
That sentiment has stuck with the songwriter.
“I’m going to take into account that not everybody is outgoing like I am,” Aimee said.
“But that doesn’t mean they’re not worth getting to know.”
As Aimee says, “Nobody wants to miss their senior year.” But if she hadn’t missed it all, she never would’ve had this special memory for herself and so many others: The making of “Dear High School.”
Video online To watch Aimee Bray perform “Dear High School,” go to gazette.com.