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Will Norton remembered for living life ‘as a gift’

August 26, 2011

Mark Norton, father of the late Will Norton, at a memorial held Thursday in his son's honor. Photo/Kevin Lara '12

Will Norton, the student from Joplin, Mo., who was to attend Chapman University this fall before his death in the May 22 tornado that devastated his community, was remembered for his passion for life, friends and filmmaking during a Thursday memorial service at the Fish Interfaith Center, Wallace All Faiths Chapel.

“It seemed like Will was always in a rush to get everything out of every day,” his father, Mark Norton, told the afternoon gathering of students, faculty, staff and administrators and Norton family members in attendance. “He looked at every day as a gift.”

In high school, Norton was already a star on YouTube, where his Willdabeast account amassed more than 2 million views. He was also a master of social media. After his acceptance into Chapman’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, he used those skills to quickly connect with fellow incoming classmates. When he disappeared in the tornado, the Help Find Will Norton Facebook page started by his family captured national and international attention and the hearts of thousands of hopeful followers moved by the story.  His body was found five days after the tornado wrenched him through the sunroof of his family’s SUV as he drove home from his high school graduation.

At Thursday’s memorial, though, speakers encouraged mourners to focus on how he lived, rather than how he died.

“If we do so, we will keep Will at our sides,” President Jim Doti said. President Doti noted that the student’s name has been etched onto the Wall of Student Honor in the Chapman University Columbarium and announced that next fall the first Will Norton Presidential Scholarship will be awarded to an aspiring film major.

Mark Norton described his son as a talented young filmmaker already successful in his art, but also a gentle person that didn’t take himself too seriously, was quick to defend friends and loved tennis, Starbucks and Sonic Ocean Water, an icy blue fast food soft drink. Norton said his wish was for all Chapman students to live life as fully as his son did.

“Today when you leave here I hope you take a little bit of Will with you. Study hard, play hard,” he said. “Make new friends. Have a Sonic Ocean Water. Live life and know you have an angel looking over you and this campus.”

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