The Oracle

South remembers Ali Merchant

ALL-STAR ALI: Standing with friends, late senior Ali Merchant (third from right) and senior Leza Bergin (third from left) take a photo after the TLS basketball game. Along with the basketball game, Merchant participated in many activities throughout his time at South. Photo courtesy of Leza Bergin

ALL-STAR ALI: Standing with friends, late senior Ali Merchant (third from right) and senior Leza Bergin (third from left) take a photo after the TLS basketball game. Along with the basketball game, Merchant participated in many activities throughout his time at South. Photo courtesy of Leza Bergin

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On Thursday, Sept. 27 senior Ali Merchant passed away due to a prolonged illness, according to Principal Dr. Lauren Fagel, who informed the Glenbrook South community through an email to students and faculty.

Merchant enjoyed spending time with friends and teachers, Kelly Derrig, special education teacher and Merchant’s case manager says.

“Ali was a student who was genuinely happy to come to school,” Derrig said. “He loved working with his teachers and seeing his friends, [and] he created really strong relationships with the peer mentors he worked with.”

In addition to different classes Merchant took, he was involved in many extracurricular activities at South and outside of school, says Derrig.

“He was in Circle of Friends club and he also competed in the TLS basketball games,” Derrig said. “It brought together the community and all his friends and all the peers, it was really a moment for him and his friends to shine. He really enjoyed the TLS basketball games.”

In Merchant’s free-time, he enjoyed watching cartoons and animations, and he had a great sense of humor that he loved to share with his peers, says Derrig.

“He loved Spongebob, … he loved Toy Story, Cars, anything with cartoons and animation,” Derrig said. “He loved to watch and talk about and if somebody else said they liked it, he would get beyond excited to talk about that with them.”

Merchant also had a passion for  acting, Caitlin Reichert, special education teacher says. He participated in a theater group called Special Gifts Theater and acted in the special education program’s plays, according to Reichert.

“One thing I’ll never forget is he was in our play, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” Reichert said. “His character really fit his personality: the dwarf Happy. That totally sums up who he was because he was extremely happy and enthusiastic everyday, [and] no matter what was happening he really gave such positive energy to the classes.”

Senior Leza Bergin, one of Merchant’s peer mentors, agrees that his positivity and happiness was infectious.

“If you were around him, you were automatically happier because he was so happy over the smallest things, like the Wild Krattz song or [other] theme songs,” Bergin said. “He was just always so happy and he always brought out the joy in life.”

These unique characteristics, along with the ability to make someone else’s day is what Derrig believes made Merchant stand out so much as a student and friend at South.

“Everybody that knew him has some type of story about something he did, something he said, some way he used to brighten their day and I think that’s the impact and legacy he left,” Derrig said. “He, without even realizing it, gave the people he interacted with, whether it was teachers or students, so much joy and laughter.”

Merchant’s joy went beyond his life as a student, Amina Merchant, Ali’s mother says, and he was a very caring and loving son.

“I miss his hugs, his kisses, and his ‘I love you mom’s,” Amina said. “In one day he [said I love you mom] maybe 20 times, 30 times. He was the one constantly [asking me] “‘Are you okay mom?’”

Ali’s impact on South is due to his resilience and optimism, despite challenges he faced in his life, Reichert said.

“He had a lot of physical struggles throughout his time at South and you would never know it by looking at him because of his positive attitude, his energy and excitement to be with his peers, teachers and peer mentors,” Reichert said. “I was always impressed by his courage and ability to get over those challenges and accept his school day as something that is the best part of his day, instead of feeling too tired or too sick to do things. He never acted that way, he always gave it his best.”

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South remembers Ali Merchant