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In Newton, classmates pen a heartfelt plea on suicide

Michael Garfinkle (right) and Brendan Duggan wrote “Promise Tomorrow.”

Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Michael Garfinkle (right) and Brendan Duggan wrote “Promise Tomorrow.”

NEWTON — A rap song about teen suicide by two Newton South High School juniors who have had to learn far too much about the subject asks listeners to make a simple promise to themselves and their friends: Live to see tomorrow.

Brendan Duggan and Michael Garfinkle composed “Promise Tomorrow” in memory of their classmate and friend Roee Grutman, 17, who in February became the third teenager in Newton to commit suicide this school year.

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They hope its message becomes a movement that spreads far beyond the city. A video of the song was released on YouTube on Tuesday night, and within 36 hours it received more than 4,000 views.

“We aren’t activists or anything,” said Garfinkle, 16, who with Duggan, 17, founded the group No Trace. “We’re rap artists. We’re making music and doing what we love. But the idea of the movement, Promise Tomorrow, is something we hope catches on. We hope people will just give themselves an opportunity to see what happens tomorrow.”

Newton’s health commissioner, Dr. Dori Zaleznik, said she thinks the song could be helpful as the city grieves over the deaths of Grutman, Newton North senior Karen Douglas, 18, and Newton South sophomore Katie Stack, 15.

‘What they did is wonderful. It seems like a genuine attempt to deal with their emotions in a creative way, and also to move the issue forward.’

Dori Zaleznik, Newton health commissioner 
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“Kids have some amazing creative outlets for personal expression,” Zaleznik said. “What they did is wonderful. It seems like a genuine attempt to deal with their emotions in a creative way, and also to move the issue forward.”

Garfinkle said that when his teacher told him the news of Grutman’s death on the morning of Feb. 6, “I just kept thinking in my mind, there has to be another Roee, it can’t be my friend Roee. I just put my head in my hands, and thought, this is crazy.”

Duggan said he “literally felt his heart freeze,” when he heard the news.

The two have been writing music and performing together since they were at Oak Hill Middle School, where Grutman was also a student. They said they instinctively knew there was only one way to deal with the pain they were feeling.

They went home separately, and wrote.

For Duggan, the words came easily:

“Sat there for hours and I swear I didn’t move

What to say what to think — it was all in my head

Hundred thousand different thoughts laid right on my bed

As my mind starts to think — was it something I said?”

The lyrics also flowed like never before for Garfinkle:

“It’s sad to see my friend’s heart break,

’Cause that heart break turns to heartache

Some stop living life too soon, but for those who start late

It’s never too late to start.”

Duggan and Garfinkle set their lyrics to a sample by MbSound of the Beatles’ “A Day In The Life.” The video was directed and edited by Alexi Reibman, a junior at Newton North.

Grutman’s mother, Galit, said the boys e-mailed her before the video was posted this week.

“It is really beautiful, and so sincere; it comes from the heart,” she said. “I hope that kids who are in distress would think about their message, and could give themselves one more day. . . . I truly do. I truly, truly do.”

She also posted a message under the video on YouTube, which in part reads: “Although my heart aches and breaks by listening to it, I hope tomorrow will be a better day for everyone. Thank you for sharing it with us. Be well . . .”

Duggan and Garfinkle said they hope people going through tough times, even a tough day or a tough week, will hear the song and decide to give tomorrow a chance.

“This should be a message that kids think about,” said Newton South junior class officer Zoe Beutel. She said she worked worked closely with Grutman, who was the junior class vice president and seemed like “one of the happiest kids” she knew.

“High school is hard,” she said. “There’s a lot of stress. You can get a bad grade on a test and feel really defeated,” she said. “But this song gives the whole community the idea that there is always tomorrow, and some minuscule thing might happen that could change everything for you.”

Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at eishkanian@gmail.com.

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