Alex Cohn was 18 when he died. He was sharp, funny, disarming and always ready to go with an arsenal of wisecracks. When Alex was around, life wasn't so serious. This isn't a quality we typically celebrate. That's too bad. Life can be hard, and being able to take it all in with a grain of salt is about as good as any solution there is.
In high school Alex was taking time to sort everything out. Cultural trends and music were cool, but these things didn't define him. He did well in school, but he wasn't passionately engaged in any one subject.
It was an unorthodox idea for the winter semester of his junior year that shaped Alex most completely. That season he trained and studied with a freestyle skiing team at Mount Snow, Vermont. He was a talented skier, but he had no aspirations to ski professionally. He just wanted to push himself further. While the plan had raised doubts for those of us in Alex's family, when he came back they weren't of much relevance. Alex was different. He radiated confidence. He'd grown up.
The Alex Cohn Grant is about the ideas young people have that don't fit so well into the framework of getting to school at 8 a.m. and going to classes and making it through practice and worrying about college and prom and getting good grades and being well-liked and staying out of trouble. These are ideas that present a challenge to the everyday high school routine. Alex was lucky to be able to take time off to train that winter. Other implausible-sounding but earnest ideas are the ones that are probably best suited to come to life with a grant.
Since Alex died, I always notice when someone shares some combination of smart, casual, funny and discerning like him. Occasionally it seems like someone's almost got it, but the feeling is fleeting. Alex was Alex – he was one of a kind. The Grant is one way we spot other young people who share some of the values that inspired him. It's one of the ways we remember him.