Careless Choice Leads to the Loss of a Remarkable West Bloomfield Graduate
On July 20, 2014, Joshua Evan Levine was found unresponsive in Wicker Park, Chicago. He was twenty-two years old and a graduate of West Bloomfield High School, class of 2010 . Following organ failure, Josh was pronounced brain dead on July 21, 2014. Cause of death was from overdosing on a mixture of adderall and alcohol. Adderall is a drug used to help people with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) to focus. Josh, like many other young people who abuse adderall, did not have ADHD. Teenagers and young adults in college sometimes use adderall hoping it will help them maintain focus for studying. Young people also sometimes use adderall while drinking to help lessen the effects of alcohol and thus be able to consume more. This attempt to fool the body into being able to consume more alcohol, however, simply fools young people into believing their bodies can tolerate more alcohol than the body can–the combination of drugs alters brain chemistry and can overload the heart. This can lead to a deadly overdose via heart failure.
“He was a really good kid, who made a choice that he had no idea would be fatal,” says Julie Buckner, Josh’s mom.
Josh’s life, and now his death, affected the lives of many; his life and legacy touched many of the West Bloomfield community. Josh made many contributions to the West Bloomfield High School (WBHS) before and after he graduated. Josh’s bold and whimsical personality tied in to who he was as a student. Jennifer McQuillan, Josh’s Honors American Literature teacher, shared stories of Josh when he was in her class. During Halloween, McQuillan gave an extra credit opportunity. She gave her students extra credit if they dressed-up in a costume that tied in with the literature they read. There was a scene in the novel Of Mice and Men where Lenny, one of the main characters, hallucinates a giant rabbit. Josh took that opportunity to get extra credit by dressing-up in a full bunny suit. “I’m not talking about bunny ears, and whiskers drawn on his face. He had a full bunny suit, and danced . . . that’s the kind of personality he had . . . fearlessness is a good way of describing it,” says McQuillan. Josh was always positive, and put the needs of others before himself. On top of being an exceptional student, he was an accomplished, motivated athlete. He played varsity baseball, basketball, and football.
Stephen Larkin, Josh’s World History and Student Aide teacher, spoke of Josh as a stand-out student. “[He] was always willing to be coached and always wanted to be the greatest student he could be. [He was] so happy for himself but also other people, so positive. That’s what I’ll remember the most. That was cool for me. I didn’t coach for winning or losing, I coached to make those relationships. That was the best.” Larkin and Josh kept in contact when Josh went on to become the University of Michigan football manager. When Josh became a substitute teacher at West Bloomfield High School, he was looking to get a teaching certificate. Larkin said, “He was always interested in West Bloomfield. He maintained a lot of connections, and helped with coaching.”
Bonnie McGuire was Josh’s teacher senior year. She had him as a student in Earth Science for his first semester, and second semester as an independent study. Josh and McGuire became close throughout the school year. McGuire found Josh intriguing and recognized his brilliant personality. “He was a kind soul, I miss laughing with him. [He was] witty, funny, and smart. He was the kind of student who would study a half an hour before the test and get the highest ‘A’ in the class,” McGuire states in an interview. After high school, Josh and McGuire maintained their connection. McGuire and her children would often visit Ann Arbor and enjoy dinners with Josh. McGuire realized early on that Josh would, “connect his world through social media.” Josh was never without his phone and he would be in conversations at any given time with many different people. “He was the ultimate multitasker,” said McGuire. McGuire found that Josh had a huge heart and that he had the unique qualities spoken of in a (University of) “Michigan Man”. One of the last conversations that McGuire had with Josh is held very close to her. The two talked about the possibility of him coming back to West Bloomfield High School to guest teach until he sorted through what he wanted to do with his post-collegiate life. “I think that his heart was always in this building,” McGuire states. Losing Josh was extremely hard on everyone who knew him and McGuire took the hit just as hard. “Josh would make everyone feel like they were his best friend.” Josh spread love and kindness and will never be forgotten by those who loved him.
Along with his teachers, Josh was close to WBHS administrator Pat Watson. According to Watson, Josh was a great person in and out of school. Watson knew Josh through athletic camps, extra curricular activities, and Josh even did his athletic internship with Watson. “One of the most positive memories I have of Josh is when he did his internship through the University of Michigan and he helped me through summer camps. He really developed a friendship and bonded with my son.” According to Watson, Josh was outgoing, charismatic, and very friendly. Watson knew Josh very well, as a student and a friend. Watson even spoke at Josh’s memorial at WBHS. “I think it is important that we celebrate the life he had and we also understand that he made a mistake.”
Josh was a remarkable student, athlete, and friend; his mother says, “He was a very social kid from day one . . . He reached out to kids from all ethnicities. He was one who branched out to everybody.” Josh had many great qualities that touched the lives of people around him. Mrs Buckner says, “He was one to stand up for an underdog. He was one who didn’t accept others being bullied. He was one who looked out for others in need. He was one who followed his own moral code.” Josh kept his great qualities for all his years at the high school, and at the University of Michigan. According to Andrew Levine, Josh Levine’s brother, his personality was” like a tootsie pop, hard sporty exterior with a sensitive, mushy center.”
Josh’s memorial, that took place at the West Bloomfield High School, was very bittersweet. It was bitter, of course, because everyone who attended were connected to Josh in some way, and saddened by his death. However, the memorial was a celebration of his life, not a mourning of his death. “I have the rest of my life to mourn Josh, but now is the time to celebrate everything he did,” said Mrs. Buckner, reiterating Andrew Levine’s words from the eulogy. Josh’s family, friends, and teachers reminisced about old stories and personality traits they shared. Josh’s brother, Andrew Levine, wrote a eulogy about Josh and his legacy, and the effects of binge drinking. “[Binge drinking] is senseless. We can’t let this happen again,” wrote Andrew Levine. Josh’s American Literature teacher, Jennifer McQuillan, talked about his favorite poetry, and how the poems tied in with his “tootsie pop” personality. It was a beautiful ceremony.
Mrs. Julie Buckner spoke at the memorial as well. She spoke highly of her son as a student in the West Bloomfield community and at the University of Michigan. She also spent a little bit of time talking about the big picture. She wants to prevent an incident like this from happening to any other family. Along with her husband, David, Mrs. Buckner is in the process of starting a foundation to try to address and end the problem of binge drinking and combining drugs and alcohol at colleges.“We’re in the works that we want to start a foundation on a bigger level than the high school, to try to stop the binge drinking epidemic and the combination of stimulants and alcohol at a college level,” says Mrs. Buckner. Mrs. Buckner has seen the drinking problems at the University of Michigan grow in the last thirty years, and she wants to put an end to it. Finally, she wants to leave teenagers with this message: “[Teenagers] are not invincible, and choices they think are small could be huge.” Young people should think carefully about the choice to drink and use any medication not prescribed to them; they need to think about what happened to Josh and realize the consequences are sometimes irreversible.”