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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Vigil honors student who took her own life

Community asks ‘How could this have happened?’

Published: February 18, 2011
Section: Front Page

IN memory: Students held hands as they walked from the Usdan Peace Circle to Sherman Function Hall as part of the memorial Thursday in honor of Kat Sommers ’14.
PHOTO BY Ingrid Schulte/The Hoot

Members of the Brandeis community remembered Kat Sommers ’14 in a memorial vigil held Thursday morning as they mourned the loss of the undergraduate who was found dead Tuesday evening after apparently taking her own life.

The vigil, which was held both to honor Sommers and to help the community cope with the aftermath of her suicide, began with students, faculty and staff uniting at the Usdan Peace Circle before holding hands and walking solemnly down to the Sherman Function Hall.

“We are a family in mourning,” university President Frederick Lawrence said to an audience of at least 200 people. “There is a deep tear in the fabric of the Brandeis family right now.”

Administrators at the vigil emphasized to all members of the community the importance of reaching out and talking to one another during times of distress.

“What has happened is unbelievable. It is literally impossible to take in,” he said. “But it is important to know that the redemptive process of healing will come from reaching out to any of us here today. Just looking at all of you feeds my soul in a way I could not have imagined.”

Indeed, throughout the memorial many expressed their exasperation at the senselessness of Sommers’ death.

Professor Sabine von Mering (GRALL) spoke about how Sommers had come to her office hours the previous week to help plan a trip for the class. Von Mering said she was about to read Sommers’ paper for her class when she received the news of her suicide.

“Is it us? Are we making people show us a face?” von Mering asked. “You have to know that the faculty does not expect you to show a face. If you do that, we cannot help you. We need to know who you are and you need to know that we will love you no matter what.”

University chaplain Rabbi Elyse Winick echoed von Merring’s sentiments.

“If only we had seen the tempest storming inside her we would have understood,” she said. “We would have done anything, but we couldn’t.”

During the memorial, attendees were asked multiple times to hug the person next to them or to hold hands with the person next to them to demonstrate that there is a support system on campus.

“Hold hands,” Winick directed. “Imprint this moment on your soul and know that no matter how dark it is, you are not alone.”

Undergraduate Student Union President Daniel Acheampong ’11 told those in attendance to “look at the peers next to you and say ‘I care about you. I love you. I’m here for you.’”

“It is not only important to say these things at this time,” he said. “It is important to do it every time.”

In addition to using physical support throughout the memorial, members of the chaplaincy referred to their respective religions to help spiritually heal the hurt.

“There is a spark within each of us that is kindled and will never let go away, and so too in Kat,” Protestant chaplain Alex Kern said. “That spark glows brightest in our darkest time. And though today we feel broken and full of sorrow, that is how we know that we’re human.”

University Imam Talal Eid said of Sommers, “she is now at peace but we pray to God to help us achieve the peace among ourselves.”

Winick spoke to similar themes, “Into that gaping hole Kat left we must pour this love we have for each other and hope that for us it can be enough.”