A million bread tags collected by N.B. teacher after promise to student destined for next adventure

A New Brunswick elementary school teacher has spent more than two decades fulfilling – and surpassing – a promise she made to a grade four student in 1998.

Saying goodbye is never easy, but saying goodbye a million times over is a bit daunting for Susan Weaver.

Weaver still remembers when the inquisitive eight-year-old asked her what one million looked like. She didn’t know how to answer him, but the pair decided to try and find out.

R.J. Vail returned to school with a can of bread tags and their journey to collect many, many more began.

At 16, Vail died in a car accident.

In his memory, Weaver kept collecting. Her students would help sort and count each one into giant water bottles that lined the walls of her classroom.

In Feb. 2020, Weaver received her one millionth bread tag … with the help of people from all over North America, who loved her devotion to keep her promise.

"I tell my kids that it’s really important to be true to your word, and when you make a promise to keep a promise and I think that’s one of the important factors in all of this," said Weaver.

"I think it's important to remember someone for all the good things they brought into your life, the good little things - because there's always going to be big moments, but we need to look for the little moments, and we need to remember people for those little moments and cherish the moments we had with them even after they're gone."

Since reaching the milestone, the pandemic made it tough to show off what the million bread tags look like. So, the million were on display Saturday at the Chipman Spring Festival for the community to see – potentially, for the last time.

"We're just waiting to hear what the next steps for the bread tags - whether they'll be shipped somewhere to be recycled, or we'll be making something out of them," she said.

Weaver has been approached with some possibilities – but is open to lots of ideas. She would like to see a scholarship set up somehow in R.J.’s memory for students at Cambridge-Narrows Community School, where he later attended.

Either way – she suspects she’ll have to say goodbye to them, soon.

"I think when I say goodbye to the bread tags, I’m going to feel like I’m saying goodbye to R.J. all over again."

R.J’s family say they’re comfortable with whatever Weaver decides to do with the million. It’s been 16 years since they were forced to say goodbye, but feel R.J. knows Weaver kept her promise.

They all say – the bread tags have become a lot more than little bits of plastic.

"For R.J.'s family and I, I think it is going to be a painful goodbye again. But then in time we'll grow from that and we'll see the beauty in it too," she said.