Feeling an absence
Students most affected by second-year College student Goldsmith’s death should not hesitate to seek support
No healthy community easily endures the death of one of its members. But for a community of college students — young people brimming with potential, learning how to go forth in the world as full-fledged adults — the loss of one of its own deals an especially cruel blow.
The death of second-year College student Shelley Goldsmith this weekend took the University by surprise. Goldsmith passed away Saturday evening in a Washington, D.C. hospital. She had been on a trip to the area with friends.
Goldsmith, a Jefferson Scholar, had just begun to explore all the rich opportunities the University offers. Among other activities, she was a member of Alpha Phi sorority. Alpha Phi lost another of its sisters less than a year ago when Casey Schulman, then a fourth year, died last December in a snorkeling accident while on Semester at Sea.
Most people our age rarely think about mortality. To say that being young makes you feel invincible borders on cliché. But to many of us, it is true. We are distant enough from aging, from frailty and pain and fatigue, to dismiss death as a remote possibility, something to be confronted in 70 years, if ever. We are also — many of us, but not all — removed from trauma. We wear our youth like a shield. We take risks. We do not expect anything bad to happen.
The last few years have punctured any illusions of invincibility that University students might harbor. At the University, losing students has become too common. Between Schulman and Jake Cusano last year, Tom Gilliam two years before, and the brutal murder of Yeardley Love — an event that will long remain a part of the University’s psyche — the University community has barely had time to mourn one death before learning of another.
All death is sad, but the death of a college student is especially tragic. You see someone’s life end before it fully begins, yet with that person’s dreams and convictions all too palpable. One student’s untimely passing is too many.
The precise impact a death has is difficult to express. Death makes itself felt as an absence. We reach for a lost friend as an amputee might reach for a lost arm: with a rush of hope, before we realize that what we’re grasping for is no longer there.
We join students, faculty and staff in expressing our sorrow in response to Goldsmith’s passing. Friends most affected by Goldsmith’s death should not hesitate to seek support. Students who want to talk through what they may be feeling should look to the University’s Counseling and Psychological Services. To get support from CAPS, call 434-243-5150 (after 5 p.m. and on weekends, call 434-924-7004).