Hundreds gathered in homage to recently deceased second-year Camila Lee at the Cowell Dining Hall on the evening of Oct. 6.
Huddled together in the cold fog, the throng of students slowly trickled inside, candles clasped in hand. In a few minutes, the room reached near maximum occupancy. Many students sat on squares of carpet for lack of chairs.
The multitude of tall, squat and tiny tealight candles joined colorful bouquets of sunflowers and daisies onstage. Dozens of snapshots from Lee’s life flowed on the projector screen to Jack Johnson’s “Banana Pancakes” and Ben Harper’s “Burn One Down.”
“We’re here to remember Camila Lee, who took her life on September 29, 2011,” second-year Colleen Walsh said. “Exactly one week later, we’ve come together to celebrate her life and bring her with us … These candles represent the light she brought in her smile. Take a moment to think of a memory you would like to share … and do what feels right.”
Walsh shared Shel Silverstein’s poem “Put Something In” and invited anybody who wished to contribute to do so.
Individual students approached the microphone to speak about their time with Lee and the impact she made.
“I can’t stand to see any silence at this microphone — because she would have had something to say about all of us,” said second-year Ben Lilly, in response to some students’ initial hesitancy to speak.
He, like many others, reflected on his last encounter with Lee and how much it meant to him.
“She really saw someone, really acknowledged them,” Lilly said. “She could walk into a dorm room with 10 people in it, wondering what to do, and instantly have them on their feet … That’s how she lived.”
People recounted an abundance of unique adventures with Lee. They said she could charm her way into anywhere — including The Catalyst, three times in a single night. They remembered dancing wildly, singing crazy songs, and taking a picture of everybody with their pants down on a backpacking trip.
Second-year Becca LaPlante said she felt compelled to speak, even though, like several others, she had only crossed paths with Lee a few times.
“I remember she was always so friendly,” LaPlante said. “I saw her just last week. I was passing out fliers in Quarry Plaza and she was in a rush so we didn’t get to talk, but I’m so grateful I got to see her.”
Contributors shared stories of grief and joy, and several said the courage of other speakers had inspired them to not only speak, but to live their lives openly in her memory.
“We don’t all know each other, but we’re all connected by her,” second-year Sunee Kiernan said.
While every anecdote was unique, each echoed a sincere appreciation for Lee’s character. Her smile and genuine spirit were as strongly emphasized by one student as the next. Around their collective memory of Lee, the gathering had quickly evolved into an intimate community.
Thursday’s memorial acknowledged the wide and deep loss felt on campus.
As she fought back tears, Kiernan read from her diary an entry dedicated to Lee.
“You’re an exceptional human being,” Kiernan said, “and I will always feel you when the sunshine kisses my face.”