It was a solemn yet heartfelt ceremony, bringing everyone to tears, remembering 11 students who died during the past year.
UTD’s first annual student memorial, “Comets Remember,” which was held on April 16 in the Galaxy Rooms, was short and emotional. Dean of Students Gene Fitch, who felt it was important that UTD remembers and honors Comets who have died, first proposed the idea of an annual student memorial to Student Government, who felt the same way.
A bagpipe player began the ceremony, leading President David Daniel, Vice President for Student Affairs Darrelene Rachavong, Fitch, Student Government President Liza Liberman and SG Vice President Charlie Hannigan onto the stage.
“In some things, closure is never complete, but we hope that today’s remembrance will alternatively be helpful in that regard,” Daniel said.
Daniel, Rachavong and Liberman all gave short speeches offering their condolences to the families and acknowledging the students’ successes, failures and contribution to the university. Hannigan read “We Remember Them,” a poem from a Hebrew prayer book. Fitch then individually recognized each student. Flowers were given to each of the families; for those who couldn’t make it, SG senators accepted those flowers on their behalf. A bell was rung each time, and Fitch declared each student an “Eternal Comet.”
The ceremony was followed by a reception for everyone to meet and share stories. While some cried openly, others, like Associate Dean of Student Kimberly Winkler, escaped to the bathroom several times to wipe the tears away.
“These events are really hard for me. I really just hope we did something kind for the people that lost their family members,” said Hannigan.
The parents of Janani Jambukesan, who was a business administration major and a member of Phi Beta Lambda, talked with SG members at the reception. Her dad was mostly quiet as tears streamed down his cheeks, listening to his wife tell how their daughter was stressing over an exam the day she had her stroke. Her mother remembers her being excited to come to UTD, and always striving to do well in her studies.
“She was my best friend. But God wanted her back,” said Jambukesan’s mother.
Patrick Maruthmmotil’s aunt, uncle and cousin were also present at the ceremony. They shared their nephew’s story proudly, remembering his achievements and kind heart. Maruthmmotil was a graduate student at UTD, and had previously received his bachelor’s and his first master’s degree from UTD. He was a student ambassador, a member of several organizations and graduated magna cum laude. His family said he was always very positive. He died while on a trip to feed the homeless in Oklahoma.
“This is a good thing for UTD to remember students lost. It brings a good feeling to the families and the students,” said Maruthmmotil’s uncle.
UTD is notified of student deaths either by their families or by the news. Though many times, Rachavong said, the university is not notified. The Counseling Center on campus offers counseling to the families and friends of students who have passed or were injured.
The university plans to hold a student memorial every first Thursday of April, honoring students who have died in the past year.