74: One of Our Own

74: One of Our Own

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Campus Chronicles

One of Our Own

While we are mourning the loss of our friend, others are rejoicing to meet him behind the veil.

~John Taylor

It was seconds before 11:00 A.M. on a Friday and a student was waiting to see me. As I went out to greet him, in walked another student, Daniel, a member of the student organization for which I served as advisor. The organization was in the process of selecting a new executive council, and Daniel was coming to arrange an interview. He was in the process of interviewing for the Executive Director position, the highest one within the organization. I commented to someone earlier that day that he was the type of worker and leader that I wish I could be — he was dedicated to the organization, would do anything asked of him, and never expected anything in return. He was quiet, yet with a twist of sarcasm and a smile that could light up a room.

He had an undying love for Freddie Mercury and the music group Queen. In fact, so much that in one of his classes he and one of his friends used to somehow coerce their teacher into letting them play one of the group’s most popular songs, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Sometimes they listened to it, sometimes they acted it out, and sometimes they sang it. Oddly enough, he had just as strong of a love for Elmo. Yes, the Sesame Street character. I don’t know the story behind this admiration, but it’s only fitting that he’d appreciate a character that you couldn’t help but like.

As Daniel walked in, he saw that I was about to begin another meeting and offered to come back later. I joked, “No, don’t worry about it, you won’t take that long.” He came in, I explained where we were in the selection process, and we arranged a time for his second interview on Monday. He seemed excited to be asked back for a second interview because it obviously meant we liked him. A few comments back and forth and then I got up from my desk as he grabbed his backpack to leave.

The last thing he said to me before we wished each other a good weekend was, “Thank you for what you said Tuesday at the induction ceremony. Everyone needed to hear that.” He was referring to a speech I had given earlier that week, when we inducted new members of the organization, that touched on everything from challenging themselves to reach their full potential to welcoming them to an organization that had quickly resembled a family. Simple enough. He was on his way out the door, I was in a hurry to start my other meeting so I could finish a busy Friday and head home for the weekend.

I received a call the next night about 7 P.M. Daniel had committed suicide. Surely this must be a sick joke, I thought. I had just seen him a day earlier and he seemed fine. He had worked for our office for three years, and I’d never known him to even be in a bad mood, let alone suicidal. Daniel was the model member — he did anything and everything he could, he always saw the good in people, and constantly challenged them to reach their potential.

I was shocked, as was everyone who learned of this incident. I began going through my mental Rolodex of lessons learned in graduate school... how to motivate students... how to academically advise a student... how to resolve conflicts... how to counsel a student with an eating disorder... how to conduct research and work with a budget... how to counsel a suicidal student... how to give career advice... nowhere could I find anything that taught me how to react and deal with losing one of my own students.

Not only that, but I certainly didn’t know what to tell the other students. I stayed up until 1 A.M. that night talking with about twelve of our members, and we ranged from tears to questions to laughs as we exchanged our favorite Daniel stories. We had always viewed him as a happy-go-lucky student with a bright future, but did we miss something? Did we say something to drive him to this? Why did he do this? Did he leave a note? How did he do it? Does his family have any information or were they left with as many questions as we had? Could we have stopped it? Where do we go from here? So many questions, so few answers.

If you work on a college campus long enough, you experience several student deaths, but it’s usually not anyone you know personally. Maybe a student you know in passing, or maybe you help someone cope with the loss of a friend. Here was a guy who we now know battled depression for several years, yet nobody ever caught onto it. He never mentioned it and certainly never showed it. He was always optimistic and seemed to look forward to tomorrow.

I’ve often sympathized with football coaches who lose players who collapse during workouts. I’ve always wondered how that would affect their coaching in the future. They can throw out whatever politically correct answer they want about it being the same kind of practice they always run, and that they’ll try to move on as a team, and that they won’t change their coaching style at all in the future. Surely they must feel some guilt. I’m sure they’d question whether or not they expected too much from their players, or if they pushed them too far, or if they should have treated them differently. I could never imagine how they handle that and are still able to move on. Now I understand.

It was a situation that nobody can plan for or justify. Personally, I was able to survive because I had supportive colleagues, supervisors, and students. The students kept thanking me for my support, but in reality, they were giving it right back. We shared stories, laughs, thoughts, questions, and tears. We knew there wasn’t any problem that, together, we couldn’t conquer.

I only wish Daniel had felt that way.

~Jim Bove

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