Three days after a second person’s fall from the Ohio Union South garage sent a wave of shock, sorrow and worry through the campus community, a vigil on Wednesday night was held to honor the lost lives of students. The event is annual, but this year, it was much different.
The vigil came at a time when student groups are leading the way in getting one message across: mental health matters, and Ohio State must do better in providing supportive services to students. It also came at a time of uncertainty.
As the Buckeye community tried to recover from the loss of one, and hoped for the recovery of another, University President Michael Drake on Monday announced the creation of a task force that will assess campus’ mental health resources and services.
“[The vigil] will carry extra weight this year,” Shamina Merchant, the Undergraduate Student Government president, said prior to the event.
Among those honored were Daniel Birdsall, a second-year in criminology who died last Thursday; Heather Campbell, a fourth-year in psychology who died in September; and Caroline Cotter, who founded the group Cadets Against Sexual Harassment, an ROTC nonprofit on campus.
Karen Kyle, director of the Student Advocacy Center, read the full list of names of students lost to a silent crowd of students, family and staff.
Drake gave opening remarks at the vigil held in the Union and said Buckeyes are “deeply heartbroken as a community” when they lose one of their own.
“Each time is a great loss for us and we feel it anew. It’s not something you can get used to,” Drake said. “It’s terrible to have a young person who is in the ascendancy of their life taken from us.”
The Office of Student Life held the vigil, and invited loved ones and friends of those who died. Students came to the event to mourn those lost, to remember fellow students and to console one another.
“It’s a chance to think back through the year about all of the Buckeyes that we’ve lost, but at the same time also think about how lucky we are to have the community that we do and how important it is that we’re supportive of one another at all times throughout the year,” Merchant said.
Those in attendance were quiet and thoughtful, some crying. But the overall message was one of love, support and remembrance as those in attendance came together at the end of the ceremony to light candles for the deceased.
D’Andra Mull, assistant vice president for Student Life and dean of students, said the ceremony was a chance to offer love and support.
“As we recall the lives of our students our memories are bittersweet,” Mull said. “We remember the good times, the goals and the expectations, the joys and pleasures, the big and little moments we shared with these special people.”
Though the uncertainty of the university’s mental health evaluations heading into Summer Semester remains, the care Ohio State community members have for one another is certain.
“It’ll mean something to every individual person who attends, that’s what’s great about it, because for somebody this can be a symbol of hope, that we’re all coming together as a campus to celebrate these individuals,” Merchant said. “For others, it’s a moment of reflection.”
Another certainty is that none of the student’s lives will be forgotten.
“We remember the great sorrow at their passing,” Mull said. “But the one thing we will not do is forget them.”