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Piedmont High School names new library in honor of Chris Stevens, who was killed in the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya. Jean Elle reports.
On the one-year anniversary of his death in Benghazi, Libya, the school board in slain Ambassador Chris Stevens' hometown named his old high school library after him.
"Chris really loved that school," his mother, Mary Commanday of Oakland, Calif., told NBC Bay area on Tuesday. "The motto there is to 'Achieve the Honorable.' And Chris just loved that motto. It would be a really nice way to honor him."
After the school board vote, which passed unanimously, Commanday added: "I hope it inspires kids to do what Chris has done."
The newly named library finds its home at Piedmont High School, nestled in the small, affluent city of 10,000 next to Oakland in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Stevens was editor of the newspaper, active in the model U.N. and American Foreign Service clubs, and graduated in 1978. His high school career served as a springboard for his educational path, which took him to the University of California at Berkeley, where he was a history major, and to UC Hastings in San Francisco, where he earned a law degree.
All that studying -- in the public school system, his 76-year-old mother emphasized -- helped land him the prestigious post as U.S. ambassador to Libya, the country where he was killed at age 52 during a terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2012, along with three other Americans. At first, it seemed like the attack might have been spontaneous, or stemmed from an anti-Muslim film. Later, the State Department determined the terrorism was spawned by Islamist militants.
The fallout from this attack still reverberates today. And the debate over who was responsible for the security, or lack thereof, in that part of the world became political football during the 2012 presidential campaign. Several Republicans in Congress launched their own investigations, some of which are still continuing.
On Wednesday, a car bomb rocked Libya's foreign ministry building in Benghazi, marking a much more tragic remembrance of Stevens' death. Commanday did not know about the most recent attack in Libya, but when told her answer was simply, "Yes, it's a dangerous place."
Last September, Commanday spoke in an exclusive interview to NBC Bay Area about how her son had always tried to "do something bigger with his life," and had always been interested in making the world a better place. A one-time Iraqi neighbor had even clairvoyantly nicknamed the young Stevens "ambassador" 30 years ago because he was always talking to people about their lives and building bridges across cultures.
As a way to honor Stevens and his life's work, the Piedmont Unified School District board voted to rename the high school library the Ambassador Christopher Stevens Memorial Library. It's also the school district where Stevens' nieces are attending. The idea for the library came from Stevens' sister-in-law, Dana Stevens.
(His yearbook photo from Piedmont High is pictured to the right.)
"I think it's wonderful. Wonderful," Piedmont parent and PTA member Teresa Gilliland said before the meeting. "And today is a great day to do it."
Piedmont High School student Danny Kolosta hopes the new library will have an impact on kids on campus.
"Seeing someone like Stevens have such a big impact is inpirational," he said.
Assistant Supt. Randall Booker told NBC Bay Area he expects the new sign will be up in the next few weeks.
"Everyone's very excited about this in a somber way," he said. "We want to honor Chris Stevens' service, and it's important we send a message to our students about his sacrifice."
In addition, Stevens' family last year created the J. Christopher Stevens Fund to award people and groups who have good ideas on how to promote tolerance and peace in the Middle East, places Stevens had worked before his death. On Wednesday, UC Berkley's Center for Middle Eastern Studies announced receiving $100,000 from the Stevens' fundraising efforts to support research and travel in the Middle East and North Africa. Both of Stevens' parents are Cal alumni.
This past year has, of course, been painful for Stevens' family, with includes his brother Tom Stevens, an assistant U.S. Attorney in Oakland, his sister, Anne, a pediatric rheumatologist in Seattle, step-sister Hilary, Stevens’ father Jan Stevens, a retired California assistant attorney general who lives in Loomis, Calif., and his step-father, Robert Commanday, who told NBC Bay Area in a past interview that every time Chris's name is mentioned in the media, "it's like he died all over again."
But, on Wednesday, Stevens' mother took a more stoic approach.
"People have been very supportive," she said. "We're just carrying on, and doing the best we can."
NBC Bay Area's Jean Elle contributed to this report.