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Eye of the Tiger

Christenson’s legacy lives on through “brother”

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(SINO OULAD DAOUD/EYE OF THE TIGER)

(SINO OULAD DAOUD/EYE OF THE TIGER)

(SINO OULAD DAOUD/EYE OF THE TIGER)

TARAH JOHNSON

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As a multitude of hands came together in a thunderous clap and tears leaked down the faces of those in a packed theater, Ryan Christensen’s mother and father prepared to present a $5,000 scholarship in honor of their late son.

On June 10, 2016, Ryan passed away a mere few days into the summer before his senior year. Leaving behind his parents and an older sister, Ryan’s loss was felt by the entire RHS community, with memorials, social media posts, and ceremonies held in an attempt to provide any source of emotional healing. With her son harboring an undeniable love for music, family and most importantly, all things culinary, Karen thought it fit to honor her Ryan in the only way that seemed right: giving back to someone else.

The stage light beamed down upon Karen and her husband Joe as they tearfully remembered her son’s laugh, his smile, his unexpected acts of kindness. As Karen spoke, the silence from the audience was unwavering. She began slowly, gripping Joe and RHS Culinary Teacher Angela Ash for support as she recounted Ryan’s dreams and his desires in life.

“I was feeling so many emotions that night with all the people there, but I wanted to do it for Ryan. I practiced my speech many times through tears, and I’d get to a point where I would say ‘I’m just not gonna do it,’ but Angela and my husband was right there to support me,” Karen said. “It was probably my last opportunity to have such a captive audience and talk about my son. Because I love talking about my son, even if it makes me cry. I know Ryan was with me that night. I just wanted to make him proud.”

Karen fondly remembers letting Ryan take over in the kitchen starting from a young age and believes his own exploration lead him to his love for all things food.

“Ryan was always creative and curious in the kitchen. When he was younger we were having hamburgers, and he wanted to season his meat, and he must’ve put on a dozen spices, including nutmeg,” Karen said. “I’ll just never forget that. I think allowing him to be creative and allowing him to taste what he made made him interested in food.”

After a heart-wrenching speech that captured only a portion of the emotional toil Karen and Joe have been victims to since Ryan’s passing, senior and Ryan’s lifelong friend Elias Bravo was greeted by applause and cheers as he walked onstage to receive his $5,000 culinary scholarship.

Bravo says his relationship with Ryan consisted of too many memories to recall and not enough time to reminisce on all of them.

“Ryan and I have been best friends since sixth grade, but since our parents have been so close for such a long time through work, we called ourselves ‘diaper buddies,’” Bravo said. “He’s like my brother. We have so many memories. And I’m so lucky I got to be with him and spend time with him with what time we had together.”

From a young age, Ryan and Bravo had a tight-knit friendship that only strengthened over the years. As simple days of Bravo coming over Ryan’s house to play video games and cook together gradually progressed into deep discussions about their futures and talents, Karen feels she saw Bravo grow in front of her eyes and knew he was truly the best candidate for her one-time memorial scholarship.

“Eli and Ryan were brothers. They talked a lot about deep subjects, like their future and graduating and what they were going to do in life,” Karen said. “Just getting to see Eli grow as a younger child into a young man has been wonderful. Seeing him over the years and just talking to him about his interests gave me a sense of direction for him and his capabilities.”

After Ryan’s passing, Bravo experienced an intense lack of direction, and a need to escape the town that only held fond yet painful memories of his best friend. After attending candlelight vigils and retreating to San Francisco for some soul-searching, he had to come to terms he had to focus on his future.

With support from family, friends and with their own funds, Karen and her family comprised a $5,000 scholarship to a deserving high school senior set on pursuing a career in culinary arts. Bravo now looks forward to using the money to propel himself toward a culinary-guided future with his best friend always in his memory.

“Karen asked me to apply for the scholarship, and it seemed like the only right thing to do,” Bravo said. “I plan to go to American River College after high school, they have an amazing culinary program. That money will go towards tuition and books. I’m just really grateful.”

Ash had both Bravo and Ryan in her culinary classes throughout high school and remembers the two boys laughing and making memories together. She feels the boys were almost inseparable and believes they’ll always have a connection.

“I think Eli and Ryan shared many of the same traits, skills and ambitions with culinary arts and both enjoyed hospitality management and serving others. I think Eli will honor Ryan’s dreams and goals by pursuing his own career in the industry,” Ash said. “I know he’ll be successful and Ryan will be with him, giving him strength and focus to achieve his goals.”

Although the days seem harder and nights even longer without her beloved son, Karen wants her and her family to live their life the way Ryan would have wanted them to, with happiness and enjoyment. Karen and her family find solace with the notion that Ryan’s memory will live on as a boy known for his big heart, humorous ways, and passion for food, music and cars.

“Sometimes it’s hard to get up and start my day without him, but as my daughter said, ‘Ryan doesn’t get that opportunity anymore, so we have to do it for him,’” Karen said.

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