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Community remembers graduate student

Megan Doyle | Thursday, November 15, 2012

Graduate student Michael Thigpen had two rules to live by.

“He would never judge people, his No. 1 rule was, ‘No judgment shall be passed,'” senior Shawn Steurer said. “And he taught us if it’s not fun, don’t do it.”

Thigpen, a first-year master’s student enrolled on the Global Health Training program, died unexpectedly earlier this week and was discovered early Tuesday morning in his off-campus residence. 
Thigpen, a native of Monument, Colo., was 23. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Colorado and planned to apply to medical school after he completed his one-year program at Notre Dame. Friends remembered him as an avid climber, enthusiastic about life and always smiling.

Steurer, the president of the Notre Dame Climbing Club, first met Thigpen when the graduate student joined the group at the beginning of the semester.

“He was very energetic, which was awesome. … The news was sad, finding out about his death, but I’ve caught myself smiling thinking about him because all the memories. He smiled a lot, told a lot of jokes.”

Steurer recalled the club’s fall break trip to climb in Boulder in Thigpen’s home state. He remembered one occasion when Thigpen decided to test his coordination by climbing an entire route with tape over one eye, describing him as a “wild card.” Thigpen’s antics always made their club trip more enjoyable, Steurer said.

“He always had a positive outlook and when I was stressing about various things on the trip, like how we were going to pack things in the car, he was always very lax and had the mindset that it was going to work out,” Steurer said.

“When everyone was stressed, thinking things would not work out, he brought positive energy and fun.”

Thigpen was a musician who had performed professionally, and Steurer remembered the mandolin he insisted on bringing to Colorado with the club.

“He loved music,” Steurer said. “Although the car was jam-packed with six people and a van and all their gear for the trip, he insisted on bringing [the mandolin.] He played by the campfire.”

The first thing junior Chris Glueck saw when he met graduate student Michael Thigpen at the rock-climbing wall with the Climbing Club was his hair. The second was his smile.

“The first thing I noticed about Michael was his hair because his hair was down to his shoulders,” Glueck said. “The second thing I noticed about Michael was his smile. He had a huge smile. … He’s just a ball of energy.”

Glueck laughed at the memory of Thigpen leading Steurer in playing their instruments around the campfire over fall break. He remembered seeing Thigpen on Friday at a dinner off campus and watching him meet the new people around him with ease.

“I don’t think he knew anybody there but by the end of the night, he knew everybody there,” he said.

“I don’t think I ever saw him without a ridiculous smile on his face.”

The Climbing Club gathered at the Grotto to remember Thigpen on Tuesday night, Glueck said, and members of the Notre Dame community gathered Wednesday for Mass to celebrate his life.

University President Fr. John Jenkins presided over the Mass, and director of Campus Ministry James King delivered the homily. When he spoke, King evoked an image from that day’s Gospel – the image of Christ on the cross.

“We can place ourselves in that scene and wonder what must have gone through [Mary’s] mind,” King said during his homily. “Was she thinking of him as a carefree child that she once held in her arms? … Was she standing there wondering if there was something she could have, should have, done to deter him from the road upon which he as set out on his way down from God?

“There are no real answers, there are no good answers, to any of those questions no matter how much she or us may turn them around in our minds. Because there is simply no good answer to the question of why a young man dies early, whether his name is Jesus Christ or Michael Thigpen. We only know that, as Lamentations says, our souls are not at peace.”

King offered the support of the University community to those gathered in Thigpen’s memory.

“For those of you who were Michael’s friends, fellow students, members of the Climbing Club, faculty, staff, I would say this, ‘Weep and mourn,'” King said. “But I would also say hold on to one another, as you did yesterday, as you have today, as you may need to tomorrow and for some tomorrows to come.

“Hold on to one another and know that you are embraced too by this community, this Notre Dame family, and that you are also enveloped in the love of Mary our Mother, Our Lady of Notre Dame, who knew herself what it was like to weep and mourn.”