Over 400 people gathered at Mountain Lake Church in Dawsonville Wednesday night to celebrate the life of Grace Elizabeth Sheer, a Dawson County High School senior who was killed in a car wreck Monday morning as she drove to school.
MLC Pastor Brian Haas, who said he did not know Sheer personally, addressed the gathered audience, which filled the church's large auditorium and spilled out into overfill rooms. Parents accompanied their children and friends clung to friends as he spoke to the legacy Sheer left behind.
"You can always tell the impact somebody has on a life and on the lives around you when they're no longer here with us...when you pack out an entire building and parking lot, you know that person is special," Haas said.
Haas said that there is a difference between longevity and legacy. Though Sheer's time on Earth was cut short, her legacy will carry on, he said.
"What you students were able to experience in the short time with Grace was truly marvelous," he said. "We don't have control of longevity very much. But legacy...is when we invest in other people. Grace is physically not here but her legacy continues in each and every one of you."
Haas also read statements from Sheer's parents, Robin and Jason, who were unable to attend.
"There is only one thing I ask of you today, one thing we can collectively do to remember and honor Grace: Always, always keep a little of her in your heart. Always live with compassion, kindness and love, and in that way she will remain with us forever," Haas read the words of Jason Sheer.
He also read a note from Robin Sheer.
"From the minute Grace was born she was truly exceptional," he read. "She always had that kindness and empathy that most people need to pray for strength to attain, but for Grace it was just woven into her every fiber of her body and soul...we're so proud and honored to say she was ours."
Dawson County High School soccer coach Chess Hamby was the first of Sheer's teachers to speak. He said it's hard to describe who Grace was, but that her name suited her perfectly.
"I looked up the definition of 'grace' today," Hamby said. He picked out five definitions he felt described Sheer well.
"A charming or attractive trait or characteristic...pleasing appearance or effect...an attractively polite manner of behaving...in an attractively elegant way, in a respectful way," he said. "That was the only way I knew to show people who Grace was."
Hamby coached Sheer for four years.
Another of Sheer's soccer coaches, Derek Waters, spoke as well.
"We've got lots of pleasant memories," he said, and described an event last Friday where the girls had played an away soccer game then left on the bus to go to dinner. Sheer was accidentally left behind.
"Grace heard me say Chick-fil-A and immediately threw her hands up and expressed her displeasure at being left," Waters said. "She was not happy that she almost missed a trip to Chick-fil-A."
Hamby brought Sheer a meal back to the field.
"I'm very thankful I was able to buy her a meal Friday night," he said.
Speaking of food, DCHS choral teacher Spencer Wright said he taught Sheer throughout high school, where she was a member of the Chamber Singers, and knew her even before then as his wife taught her in elementary school.
He said one of the things he remembered most about Sheer was her constant eating.
"She ate all the time. I had her first block, she came in every morning eating her breakfast, and by the time first block was over she was eating her lunch. I always wondered if Grace was going to eat and I would walk into the commons area and she was eating again," Wright said. "Food was important to her...you guys don't understand, she was always hungry, always."
He too had a story from just last week about Sheer.
"Thursday of last week I kept Grace and Max out of class all day for a 15 minute job," he said. "When it came lunchtime, Grace was hungry, and she was like 'Mr. Wright, why don't you let me and Max go get something to eat?'"
Wright said he didn't let them leave, but he went and bought Sheer a cheeseburger from Dairy Queen because she said she had never had one.
"The first bite of that cheeseburger she said 'this is so good,'" Wright recalled. "I said 'to you, all food is good.'"
"Just the memories that flood my mind, I'm heartbroken," he said. "Yet at the same time I'm very happy that I was able to share four years of my life with her. If we all strove to be more like her, can you imagine what this world would be like?"
Sheer's Spanish teacher, Paola Epstein, also spoke.
"She was a natural queen...however, when I say natural queen, I do not mean just beauty. She was one of those most precious jewels I have ever seen," Epstein said. "She was so smart and inquisitive, so sensitive and dedicated, so powerful and inspiring. She said 'it cost zero dollars to be a good person.' And we all knew it."
Epstein said that Sheer's life was not perfect, despite appearances, but that she handled obstacles with strength, and yes, grace.
"The most difficult time that I saw was when Coach Lacey was taken from us," she said. "That made her so strong that she was holding my hand, this old lady hand, while I cried. She is the student that every teacher prays for: Not afraid to be goofy, tough, hardworking, curious and an excellent dancer. She taught me more than I taught her."
Some of the most powerful statements of the night came from Sheer's peers, her classmates and her very best friends.
"One thing that I always knew about Grace is whatever bad mood, good mood, it didn't matter, if I was going to be around her, it would change and it always did. She always made everything better. Grace, she was exceptional. Words can't describe her," said Sam Hoppal.
"Grace Elizabeth Sheer, from the first moment I laid eyes on you, I knew you were extraordinary," said Jacob Sinclair, reading a letter he had written. "From your constant, beautiful smile to your own goofy dances that appeared to be no more than your own version of the Cuban Shuffle. Grace I love you with all of my heart and you have forever impacted all of our lives."
Nate Umberger said that though he hadn't spent as much time as others with Sheer, he would never forget how special she was.
"Grace told me 'I feel most close to God on top of these mountains,' and that was one of the instances where I realized she was special, different from anyone else," said Umberger.
He said the last time he said goodbye to Sheer was on Sunday night, after the two had gone to get ice cream and she was leaving his house. After walking her to her car and going back inside the house, he turned around and chased her down the driveway.
"By then it was pouring down rain, so I ran out there, banged on the glass (she was a little startled). She rolled down the window and said 'what.' I said 'I just wanted to say goodbye to you one last time,'" he said. "That was my last goodbye. Grace was the most beautiful girl I've ever known."
Brady Holbrook said that everywhere Sheer went, she spread happiness.
He said he met Sheer on the first day of Kindergarten, and that she was the first friend that he made.
"I would say that I was her first friend, but those of you that know her would correct me and say that she was friends with everyone as soon as she walked in the room," he said. "And I got there after her."
Ashley Stanfill had written Sheer a letter for Christmas, which she read on stage.
"You are so kind and wise. I admire you because you're a good mix of analytical logic and sincere emotion," she said. "I love your adventurous soul and artistically driven eyes. I don't think I've ever seen anyone else get so excited about little rainbows like you. I'm tearing up writing this because my time with you has been nothing but bliss."
Alexis Bagley said she had been friends with Sheer for over a decade.
"There just aren't enough words in the English language to tell you how deeply you impacted my life, you beautiful, talented soul," she read. "I wouldn't trade the time I spent with you and our deep, late night, tear-filled talks for anything. I love you forever."
"Grace was a joyful spirit always...most people have to try with everything they've got just to be half as bright as she was without any effort," said Sam Smith. "Grace took advantage of everything life had to offer...she was real always. She was wholly invested always. She was trying to make the most of what she had always. She was inspiring always and she was a friend always."
Camille Stewart said that Sheer would want the day to be a celebration of love.
"She taught me how to love people and how to love life," she said. "Today let's love each other like she loved us and let's laugh like she's telling jokes. Lets learn from her and never hold anything back."
"They always say you don't know what you have until its gone, but I'd like to believe I knew what I had, and how special she truly is," said Max Gee. "She was a person who knew everything about me and still chose to love me. The love she gave me was always unconditional and so special. So special that every breath she was given was put in to making other people happy."
Bronwynne Hill was the last of Sheer's friends to speak. The two were friends for 12 years.
"Grace was a light that out shined all the darkness in the world," she said. "She was too bright for the world to handle. This is not the end of Grace Sheer."