Following sudden death, School of Rock’s first scholarship recipient remembered through academic fund

Michael Bratton was a student at the School of Rock in Virginia Beach for about a year. (Courtesy of Eric Lonning)

VIRGINIA BEACH — Michael Bratton was a talented guitarist who worked hard to master complicated riffs when he was a student at the School of Rock in Virginia Beach.

When the 20-year-old guitarist committed suicide on Jan. 9, his death shook those at the music school who’d given him his start through a scholarship. Now, in honor of his memory and talent, the owners of School of Rock are creating a scholarship in Bratton’s name.

“He was the first guy who was ever on a scholarship, and he was an ideal student and a hard worker,” said Eric Lonning, owner of the School of Rock. “If kids are going to come in and get a scholarship, we want them to be working hard and trying to do great.”

Bratton was the first School of Rock student to get a scholarship. He began training at the school in the fall of 2015 when he was connected with Lonning through representatives from the Tidewater Youth Services Commission.

As a music student, Bratton was a leader who worked hard outside of his lessons to master complicated songs and become a lead guitarist during live performances at venues like Shaka’s Live at the Oceanfront.

“He had the role of taking on a lot of the lead guitar parts and lead guitar solos,” Lonning said. “Everyone knows that those are the most difficult parts, and it wasn’t like he could just do them right away. It was obvious that he was going home and really working at it.”

That work ethic created a friendly and inspirational “peer pressure environment” for other students at the School of Rock, Lonning said.

“A kid who’s working really hard can really positively influence other kids,” he added.

Bratton played with the School of Rock for about a year before he graduated when he turned 18. Lonning said that in retrospect, he wishes he’d kept in closer touch with Bratton after he left the school.

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A few weeks after Bratton died, Lonning created a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for the “Michael Bratton Rock Scholarship.” He aims to raise $3,000, which will help up to three students take music lessons at the school for a year.

Those lessons include private instruction, group rehearsals and opportunities to play music in real venues.

As of Tuesday afternoon, eight people had donated more than $900 toward the scholarship.

“When you conquer your fears and perform on stage and get better and accomplish your goals, it gives you fuel that goes into your everyday life,” Lonning said. “It can make you a better student, a better worker and a better friend.”

Although Bratton’s death came as a shock to those who knew him at the School of Rock, Lonning said he and other staff members are turning the tragedy into a way to talk with other students about depression and suicide, and who they can reach out to if they feel like they need help.

“I do think it’s an opportunity to sort of talk about mental health and depression,” Lonning said. “You really wouldn’t have known that there was anything going on [with Bratton] … I think this type of program can do a lot of positive things for kids who might not have other positive outlets, and we want to keep trying to share it with as many people as we can.”

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

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Adrienne Mayfield is an award-winning, multi-media journalist hailing from Clermont, Fla. She moved to Lynchburg, Va. on a whim when she was 19, and worked her way to Hampton Roads in 2013. Adrienne is passionate about telling people stories via covering public safety and the judicial system. She isn’t afraid to take a heads-on approach to covering crime, including knocking on doors to get the details police aren’t sharing. Adrienne is a 2014 Old Dominion University graduate who still lives within walking distance of the college. You may see her cruising around Downtown Norfolk on her bike, enjoying a sandwich from Grilled Cheese Bistro or playing fetch with her dog, Greta, at the Colonial Place dog park.