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Notre Dame sophomore dies

Sam Stryker and Megan Doyle | Monday, April 4, 2011

Sophomore Sean Valero, described by friends as a quiet and hardworking student, died last week. He was 21.

Valero, originally from Niskayuna, N.Y., was a resident of Keenan Hall and a double major in pre-professional studies and philosophy. 

Sophomore Stephen Schwaner said Valero was both easygoing and thoughtful, and he valued his friendships within Keenan. Valero loved to joke around with friends and had “a really big, kinda goofy smile,” Schwaner said, but he would also often engage his friends in philosophical debates.  

“Although he could be really goofy and joke around with us, he was pensive and intellectual too,” he said. “It seemed like philosophy was one of his favorite subjects, and he told me that it was one of his favorite classes.” 

While Valero was more introverted than outgoing, Schwaner said he most enjoyed spending time in the dorm with his friends. 

“He was a really good guy, and had a really good heart,” he said. “Every single person that he did meet seemed to take an immediate liking to him.” 

Valero earned an affectionate nickname from his friends when he wore pajama pants to spend time outside of Keenan, Schwaner said. 

“We started calling him ‘PJ Sean,'” he said. “It fit in perfectly with his personality because he was easygoing.” 

Sophomore Gabe De Vela met Valero when the two lived in the same section in Keenan during their freshman year. He planned to room with Valero in the fall. 

De Vela said Valero had an “eager” passion for academics.

“Sean wanted to be a doctor,” he said. “That desire showed me how much he loved learning and how compassionate he was for others.” 

Valero hoped to be a neurosurgeon after graduation, De Vela said. 

Keenan rector Fr. Dan Nolan said Valero was a dedicated student. 

“He spent a lot of time studying,” he said. “It was not unusual to see him running down late at night to get a paper he wrote from the printer.” 

The sophomore loved being a part of Keenan, Nolan said. While he was usually not a leader inside the community, he was often present at dorm events. After Valero took a leave last semester, Nolan said he expressed interest in returning to the residence hall. 

“He wrote to me in December, late November, and told me he really wanted to come back to Keenan,” he said. 

Nolan said Valero looked forward to his upcoming months at Notre Dame.  

“He felt really good about next semester,” he said.  

Nolan said he called Keenan hall staff together early Friday morning and then notified Valero’s roommates of his death. Nolan said he emailed the members of the residence hall within a few hours.  

The members of Keenan Hall gathered for a dorm Mass Friday evening. Keenan Hall’s Holy Cross Chapel was full as members of the Notre Dame community gathered to remember Valero. After mass, student government hosted a meal of pizza and pop in honor of Valero.  

Nolan said the residents of Keenan are coming to grips with their peer’s death in different ways. 

“In talking with some of the guys, many of them have never experienced death before,” he said. “This is the first time a lot of the guys have experienced the death of a peer. This causes some time to pause and realize how fragile life can be.” 

University President Fr. John Jenkins asked the Notre Dame community in a press release Friday to keep Valero and his family in their prayers.  

“On behalf of the Notre Dame community, my deepest condolences go out to Sean’s family and friends,” Jenkins said. “My prayers are with them during this difficult time.” 

Valero’s body was found late Thursday night in the area near campus lakes, the release stated. The St. Joseph County coroner’s office ruled Valero’s death a suicide. 

A visitation in Valero’s memory will be held Wednesday at the Daly Funeral Home, located at 242 McClellan Street in Schenectady, N.Y., from 4 to 7 p.m.  

A Funeral Mass will be held Thursday at 9 a.m. at St. Helen’s Catholic Church in Schenectady on 2216 Rosa Road.