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Losing my student Ziqi Zhang

Alice Yang | Monday, November 19, 2012

I have not yet enjoyed the fall breeze or the beauty of autumn’s colors. Both of these things seemed to be out of reach and are now gone. This year’s fall break was very significant for me, because my Chinese student Ziqi Zhang has left this world due to a traffic accident. A very young and beautiful life is gone. She was only 19, young and energetic. She should still be here looking forward to a bright future. What a tragedy! What pain! On October 13th, the Saturday before her accident, Ziqi wore her favorite green coat in support of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at her first and last Notre Dame football game. Ziqi could never have imagined that on October 20th, the Saturday after the accident, Notre Dame Stadium, with a capacity of 80,000, would be filled with football fans all standing to take part in a moment of silence in her memory.

Saint Mary’s vice-presidents and my colleagues of the Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership worked all weekend to prepare the official letters, which had to be translated before being sent via email and fax. It was night and day non-stop work. The school leaders decided to host the Sunday Mass in Regina Chapel in memory of Ziqi. Father John summarized Ziqi’s life at Saint Mary’s:

“Lots of people have had things to say about her in various groups the last few days. I’ve heard comments about her intelligence, her creativity and her great smile. I’ve heard of quiet acts of kindness she showered upon other people. I’ve heard how adventurous she was, about her first encounter with horse-riding, as the horse galloped along. I would have thought that the horse walking would be enough of a first experience! I’ve heard about her trying out for teams in sports she’d never played before. I’ve heard her described as an excellent student, a budding scientist, fascinated by nano-technology, as well as a talented musician. I’ve mostly heard her described as somebody who was very easy to like, to love and who very much liked and loved others.”

The memorial service for Ziqi on Tuesday was touching. Hundreds of people came to Regina Chapel. Ziqi’s roommate, classmates, friends and professors all talked of their experiences with her. We laughed because of the interesting things she did in the past. We were sad and had tears because of the sorrow of losing her. She had only been in the United States for about a year. She struggled when she had to decide whether she should go back home or stay for a research project last summer, but in the end she decided to stay. She had just bought an international air ticket to visit her home only a few days before the car accident. She shared the exciting news with her classmates and friends and even left a message on Facebook telling everyone that finally she would be able to go home for a visit. This situation gave many of us great sorrow. After coming overseas to study at a place where she longed to go, she could now never go back home.

I received her family’s letter to the school on Tuesday morning and we read it at the memorial service at noon that day. This letter touched all people who understand English or Chinese. The letter read:

“Thank you very much for your letter. We were very touched by it. We are witnessing the gracious generosity that offers timely help in that wonderfully civilized country of the United States of America, which was my daughter’s dream land. We felt honored to have sent her there to study – a place filled with hope, kindness and friendship. With gratitude and esteem to you, we accept your kind offer to help us. Though we are old, and having lost our precious daughter, we felt the warmth through your actions, and we felt that it had been worthwhile for our daughter to have studied there. She was our pride and joy. She longed for this wonderful country of America and we wished she could have completed her studies, learned the sciences and civilization so that she could have played a worthy role in the betterment of the entire human race.”

Ziqi’s life was short, but she had built a beautiful bridge. She came to America from China to study abroad and pursue dual degrees of Saint Mary’s College and the University of Notre Dame. Most of her life in the United States was spent on the way back and forth between the two institutions. Her life also ended on the road between the two.

May she rest in peace in Heaven!

Alice Yang is a professor of Chinese and the Assistant Director for Global Education at Saint Mary’s College. She can be reached at syang@saintmarys.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.