Student leaders constructed a memorial to honor and celebrate late second-year College student Hannah Graham Sunday morning at the Whispering Wall.
Second Year Council and Student Council joined forces to organize the memorial. Flowers were used to decorate the display, centered around a chair made of skis that Graham was once photographed in.
When Graham’s body was positively identified Friday, Council President Jalen Ross, a fourth-year Engineering student, distributed an email to the student body informing them of the memorial effort.
“We mourn the loss of one of our own in Hannah Graham,” he said in the email. “But we are also thankful. For the closure today's news brings. For the grace with which we've seen Hannah's family and friends handle this tragedy. For the tireless work of the police, our administration, and thousands of volunteers. For the clarity to enter the next stage of grief and healing — and for the chance to do so amid the full breadth of the Virginia family on this Homecomings weekend."
Council Representative Body Chair Abraham Axler, who is also President of Second Year Council, led the planning effort along with Ross. When Axler saw a picture of Graham in the chair of skis, he contacted the owner about making the chair the centerpiece of the memorial.
“It really added a personal touch with the symbolism of the empty chair,” Axler said.
Friends and community members left personal messages for Graham on a chalkboard next to the Whispering Wall.
“Hannah, I brought you wild roses. I left the thorns on so they can be pretty, free, and a little bit sassy, just like you,” one inscription reads.
Another says, “We miss your big giraffe hugs, your bombarding presence on the basketball court, your quick wit, and the meticulous work ethic you brought to Kathy’s home in Tuscaloosa.”
Graham spent last spring break volunteering on an Alternative Spring Break trip in Alabama.
“I wish I could have met you,” another post reads.
Ross said the memorial represents a more lasting tribute to Graham’s memory, in contrast to the vigil held in September.
“The tone of the vigil was about finding Hannah, about bringing her home," Ross said. "This memorial is resigned to the reality that we’re not going to bring her home. [It’s time] to think about what her legacy was and how we are going to respect her memory.”
Axler recalled Dean of Students Allen Groves’ words on the ways tragedies such as these create meaningful conversation. Graham’s legacy, he said, will be safety.
“While it's truly anomalous that this has happened, we’re going to react in such a way to make U.Va. so much safer than even it has to be," he said. "We’re going to be over-safe. And that’s a net benefit from Hannah’s legacy. That every University student will take precautions."
Ross has worn an orange ribbon throughout the search for Graham, who disappeared Sept. 13. For the majority of the University community, he said, life goes on with classes and midterms in wake of this tragedy. But for close friends and family, Graham’s death cuts much deeper.
“I can take 10 seconds in the morning to put a pin on and remind these people that they’re not alone,” he said.
Ross said he is unsure when he will take off his pin. “Part of me wants to leave it with the memorial.”
Graham’s body may be coming home, but her absence reverberates around Grounds.
“In some ways it’s frustrating that this is the best we can do,” Axler said. “It still feels so small compared to the loss that we’ve experienced.”
Axler said the memorial will stay assembled “as long as it needs to be.”
“We’ll take our cues from the friends and the family,” he said. “We’ll be there whenever they want us to do something.”