Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

Sign up for our twice-weekly newsletter!

Justin Peligri: In wake of student passing, turn to each other

It was 10 degrees below freezing Friday afternoon. But Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski, standing at a podium in a room of teary-eyed faculty, administrators and students, reminded us that Ames Hall Room B101 was the warmest place on campus.

“I just want you to think about that sense of community, to think about what it is to lose a Colonial,” he said at the campus memorial service for freshman Sean Keefer, who was found dead on Tuesday.

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo

Classmates, friends and professors all raved about his life, his kindness, his genius. The sentiment was unanimous and resounding: Keefer was an extraordinary person with a brilliant smile.

But at times, it wasn’t exactly clear what students should have been thinking about or what they should have been feeling that afternoon. Sean was the first undergraduate to pass away on campus in three years, rocking the student body in a way many have not felt before.

We feel sadness. The more you learned about Sean – his devotedness, his wit – the more you wished you could have been his best friend.

We feel heartache. We watched a grieving family of four – a father, mother, two twin sisters still in high school – who just last weekend were playing board games together. The last phone call they’d ever receive from their son and older brother went to voicemail.

We feel regret. Was there anything anyone could have done – any small gesture of friendship or camaraderie – to alleviate his pain?

At the vigil, Chris Keefer, Sean’s father, said, “I lost 25 percent of my family Tuesday.”

After hearing those words, it’s easy to be left with a pervasive sense of confusion – wondering whether or not there was something any of us could have done to prevent such a crushing loss.

But Chris Keefer also had this to say:

“Anybody who feels any guilt – don’t feel guilty. [My wife] Christine and I are struggling with that. We’ll be fine. We’ll come out of it. But the people who are close to Sean: I don’t want any guilt felt, okay?”

After he said those words, he paused, swallowed, and looked around the room. He locked eyes with many people sitting in seats and standing along the wall, as if to drive home his point and make sure he was clear: He was talking to every person there.

He didn’t know the majority of the people in that room, he admitted. He spoke authoritatively and passionately, but it still felt incredibly intimate. He had important advice to give.

“I want you to go to your friends, go to your family,” he said. “It does not matter if you’re mad at your mom or dad or brother or sister. Call them.”

His off-the-cuff message resonated, far more than any scripted words could have.

But at the end of the day, something is not the same at GW. From here on out, students – freshmen and otherwise – will need to cope with the fact that in a few years, one seat during Commencement will remain vacant on the National Mall. We’ll need to grapple with the idea that one student left our school and our world far too prematurely.

The loss is a reminder that day in and day out, we’re all intertwined. That the “education” line on our resumes is something we all share, sure, but we shouldn’t forget that we’re all here for one another – on good days, but especially bad ones.

“What I would implore all of you to do,” Chris Keefer said, “All of you young people, is if you ever feel that you want to go to a dark place, don’t go alone. Okay?”

More to Discover
Donate to The GW Hatchet