Michael T. Washington was everywhere inside the library at Northeast Tacoma Elementary School on Thursday.
His name was emblazoned above the door. This was, after all, the Michael T. Washington Memorial Library.
Michael the boy smiled from a grade school portrait on a wall. Michael the man looked out from underneath the brim of a U.S. Marine Corps cap in another photo.
When he was a boy, Washington was a student at the school at 5412 29th St. NE. Sgt. Washington, the man, died June 14, 2008, when an improvised device blew up near his Humvee in Afghanistan.
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He was 20 years old.
On Thursday, his mother, Grace, helped the school dedicate a mural she and 400 of the students created.
“I wanted it to come and stay in this library to…,” she paused as tears welled up and flowed, “to do something for my son in the school.”
When the school staff members asked Grace Washington, an artist, to design a piece in memory of her son she wanted the children to participate.
Nearly 400 three-inch-square tiles went into the mural, which joined together, make an American flag.
“They painted on their tiles, we talked about diversity,” she said of the kids.
The mural, called “Together We Rise,” was hung high on the library’s wall after being displayed at the Tacoma Art Museum.
It was dedicated after a Veterans Day assembly that honored military veterans. About 20 attended and were honored at the event in the school’s gym.
The assembly featured the presentation of the national colors, the national anthem and Pledge of Allegiance.
Inside the library, the event turned more personal.
“It’s special when the military remembers him but I think it’s different when it’s the families and the communities who have seen this child grow,” Grace Washington said.
Michael Washington graduated from Stadium High School in 2005 and joined the Marines that fall. While in Iraq, he was awarded a medal for bravery during an enemy ambush.
Michael, his mother said, was someone who wanted to help people. And he enjoyed life.
His life is a model she hopes the children who attend the school now will follow.
“I want them to look at life like they can do anything,” she said. “But their life is not just their own. We have a responsibility to our community, to our nation and to the world.
“I want them to grow up thinking bigger. I want them to make a positive difference.”
Asked to describe a defining story about her son while he was a student at Northeast Tacoma, she skips the usual bumper sticker achievements.
“I got called down to school because Michael got in trouble,” she said. “Another boy was picking on another child, who was smaller. Michael stood up for the other child.”
Grace Washington told her son he wasn’t in trouble.
“We’re going to celebrate that you stood up for someone else,” she recalled telling him, wiping a tear. “I was so proud of him.”