Courtney Brousseau keeps inspiring others

Sporting khaki shorts and a huge smile, Courtney Brousseau was a force to be reckoned with. Brousseau graduated from NPHS in 2015 and UC Berkeley in 2019, giving all of his energy toward improving the lives of those around him. This passion was cut short when Brousseau was shot during a drive-by shooting in San Francisco on May 1, passing away surrounded by his loved ones. In a community already suffering from COVID-19, Brousseau’s death has caused heartbreak to the many people he touched, serving as a reminder of the importance of building relationships and serving others in need.

As a student

The teachers that had Brousseau as a student knew that he was special. Brousseau was an excellent student in the classroom, consistently impressing his teachers with the quality of his work. He was wise beyond his years and had a larger than life personality. He stood out because of the passion and dedication he brought with him everywhere.

Stephen Johnson, history teacher, was Brousseau’s teacher for two years at NPHS. “I think back on a 36 year career and he’s one of the very best individuals I’ve ever worked with… just an incredible young man,” Johnson said.

Go bears – Courtney Brousseau represents his school with UC Berkeley merchandise. In college, Brousseau was a heavily involved student and advocated for many causes. Grace O’Toole/With Permission

Through their conversations, Johnson could tell that Brousseau was going to make a difference in the world. “He had a way of looking at the world that went beyond his immediate circle… . There’s a saying that if more people thought globally and acted locally, the world might be a better place, and Courtney was someone who could do that,” Johnson said.

Brousseau’s appearance was very simple, something that humors Johnson. “I think sometimes you think of the movers and shakers of society as being people who wear fancy suits and drive fancy cars and here’s this guy. I always remember his T-shirts, with kind of snarky sayings on them, and his flip flops.”

Jennifer Halpert-Hand, English teacher, had Brousseau in her English 10 Honors class. Although it has been several years, Halpert-Hand shows his Lord of the Flies project to her students every year as an example. “He built a papier-mache model of the island the boys were stranded on…  When he walked into the classroom I remember being both incredibly pleased with what he had produced and also not at all surprised… There’s always a moment of awe when students see it.”

“He did more in the time he had than a lot of people do in a lifetime.”

– Grace O’Toole, NPHS alumna and former Prowler co-editor-in-chief

After losing one of their most impactful students, Johnson and Halpert-Hand have reflected on the effect that kids can have on them as teachers. “I remember the sound his flip flops made. I remember his smile. That kid is not supposed to die before his life really began. He was just getting started,” Halpert-Hand said.

Hard work pays off – Grace O’Toole and Courtney Brousseau hold all of the papers they created as co-editors-in-chief. “[Brousseau] was just an extraordinarily effective leader,” O’Toole said.

As an activist

A quick scroll through Brousseau’s Twitter would show just how active he was in the community. He devoted his energy to a variety of issues, including public transportation, LGBT rights and supporting businesses during COVID-19. His participation in local programs as a student helped Brousseau become a leader, inspiring other students to do the same.

Veronica Rodarte is the adviser for Youth and Government, a program that Brousseau participated in during high school. “He was very respected by his peers, not only from the local delegation level…  in Newbury Park, but honestly on a statewide level,” Rodarte said.

As a senior in high school, Brousseau served as Chief Justice, the first from the Newbury Park-based Miller delegation. “That position entails that he campaigns to 3,000 of his peers… He went to different delegations in different regions of California to campaign,” Rodarte said.

Brousseau also spent countless hours on the Panther Prowler staff during his four years of high school. Michelle Saremi, adviser, looks back and feels that Brousseau was an incalculable asset to the staff.

“We had no social media presence. We had no website. We got that stuff because of Courtney,” Saremi said.

As a student journalist, Brousseau used his voice to bring awareness to issues that extended far beyond the bubble of Thousand Oaks. “He liked to tackle controversial things. I remember our first special edition magazine, and we focused on immigration and student immigrants. He got people to talk and to interview with us,” Saremi said. As co-editor-in-chief, Brousseau motivated his staff to continue to write about meaningful topics. “Courtney was the chief you didn’t want to disappoint.”

After high school, Saremi and Brousseau kept in touch, often making plans to get lunch when  they were in the same city. She hopes that her own kids can be as motivated to change the world as he was. “His mom fostered a level of intellectual curiosity that I can only hope that I can instill in my children… It’s just really admirable,” Saremi said.

Saremi echoes the same feeling as Halpert-Hand, that Brousseau was meant to do so much more. “I was standing in between Courtney and [Grace O’Toole] and [thought], ‘I am standing in between two amazing humans. They’re just going to have such an impact on the world.’ I think the thing that’s really tragic about his death is that he wasn’t done,” Saremi said.

All grown up – Grace O’Toole, Michelle Saremi and Courtney Brousseau (from left to right) smile during the 2015 NPHS graduation ceremony. Brousseau’s actions in high school left behind a lasting effect. “I just hope that when this community thinks about Courtney, they think about this kid that really stirred up a conversation,” Saremi said.

As a friend

Brousseau wanted to make a difference in the world. He formed close connections with many people, and for those who feel the impact of his death, Brousseau will always be remembered as a kind, supportive and loving friend.

Grace O’Toole met Brousseau during their freshman year chemistry class. “I remember looking over and he was actually sketching out a website design for the Prowler under a new website revamp,” O’Toole said. She ended up joining after talking to Brousseau, later becoming his co-editor-in-chief their senior year.

Brousseau and O’Toole were not afraid to use their voices as student journalists, publishing the “Let’s Talk About Sex” magazine as editors-in-chief. After receiving backlash from the community, O’Toole and Brousseau worked together to protect the Prowler. “He never once really backed down… [He] just had this indefatigable kind of spirit and fight in him that he carried,” O’Toole said. 

Both going to UC Berkeley, Brousseau and O’Toole helped organize a protest their freshman year to defend a math professor who was being terminated. “We went around dumpster-diving around campus to try to get cardboard the night before,” O’Toole said. “I don’t know if I would have had the wherewithal and drive to actually do something about it if it weren’t for also [Brousseau] very strongly believing in what was right and what was wrong in the situation.” 

O’Toole worked with Brousseau’s family to set up a temporary memorial next to the marquee outside of NPHS for people to write messages and pay their respects. “He always lived life to the very fullest and was always just such a light in the world,” she said. 

Brousseau’s life was cut short at 22 years old, but his ability to inspire others is timeless. “He’s hopefully going to keep inspiring people to continue being the change in whatever and wherever they’re fighting their battles,” O’Toole said.

Loving Courtney – A temporary memorial is set up outside of NPHS to commemorate Brousseau. “[He] was always just such a light in the world,” O’Toole said.