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SMC memorializes anniversary of student death

Tabitha Ricketts | Monday, November 18, 2013

Saint Mary’s College held a special ceremony Friday to dedicate a tree on campus in memory of Ziqi Zhang, the international student who was killed travelling between Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame last year.

Elaine Meyer-Lee, director of the Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership (CWIL), said she knew the death had, and still continues to have, a big impact on members of the Saint Mary’s community.

“For those of us who knew her, and even for some who didn’t, it was a very tragic event last fall.” Meyer-Lee said.

Meyer-Lee said Zhang was active both at Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame, as a participant in the dual-degree engineering program.
“She jumped into things and got involved right away,” Meyer-Lee said.

Although Saint Mary’s did not have a public memorial to mark the anniversary of Zhang’s death, Meyer-Lee said Notre Dame held a candlelight vigil in Zhang’s memory at the Grotto. She said that Saint Mary’s students and faculty were looking to honor Zhang’s memory as well.

“As the weather changed and got closer to what it was that night, I think a lot of us … were thinking about her,” Meyer-Lee said. “As the anniversary approached, quite a few of us… started talking about an appropriate way to mark that as a community.”

She said the idea for a lasting memorial to Zhang had been discussed more immediately after her death last year, but the anniversary caused the idea to resurface. The Saint Mary’s Student Government Association took the lead, Meyer-Lee said, in conjunction with some of Zhang’s closest friends, to make the memorial a reality.

Saint Mary’s chose to dedicate a hawthorn tree near Regina Hall, where Zhang lived during her time on campus.

“It’s strong like she was, and living as we want her memory to be,” Meyer-Lee said. “Somebody also pointed out that for an international student, the way a tree has its roots in land and its branches in the air was a nice symbol for the way [Zhang] crossed cultures.”

A number of faculty and students from the Saint Mary’s community attended the blessing and dedication, which began at 4 p.m. The ceremony opened with a prayer and reading, then those in attendance were invited to share favorite memories of Zhang.

Several of Zhang’s friends and members of faculty shared stories about their times with her.

Alice Siquin Yang, assistant director of global education in CWIL, read the letter from Zhang’s father that was shared at her memorial service last October. Those in attendance were invited to extend their hand and join in the blessing of the tree as it was watered from the font of the Church of Our Lady of Loretto
The ceremony concluded with a closing prayer and the sign of peace. Participants were invited to congregate in the lobby of Regina Hall to share refreshments and continue to trade memories of Zhang.

“It was beautiful,” Saint Mary’s junior Claire Stewart said. “It was wonderful to see [everyone] coming together to cherish the life of a wonderful member of the Saint Mary’s community.”

Despite not knowing Zhang very well on a personal level, Stewart said she really felt the loss, and thought attending the dedication was an important way to honor Zhang’s life.

“I had one class with her freshman year. The accident happened while I was abroad in Rome … all of us were really shaken up, just knowing that there was a loss in the Saint Mary’s community,” Stewart said. “Even people that we don’t know well are so vital to what our life is here, and every member is integral to our happiness.”

Contact Tabitha Ricketts at [email protected]