After the speeches and the prayers, Cross Campus fell silent, the faces of over 2,000 people illuminated by burning candles. Then out of nowhere a hum began. It grew until it became a tune: “Amazing Grace.” Once that faded, the sound of a lone violin came out of Berkeley College, playing the same song.
Students, faculty members and staff from around Yale gathered on Cross Campus on Monday night to honor the memory of Annie Le GRD ’13 in a candlelight vigil arranged by undergraduate organizations, cultural houses and Yale administrators. The vigil came after a day of mourning within the Yale community.
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“I am reminded that we are an extraordinary community, a community of concern,” University President Richard Levin said during the 20-minute service. Levin also asked all concerned students to “please seek help” during what he called “this horrendous trauma.”
His introductory remarks were followed by a prayer by University Chaplain Sharon Kugler, who had been with Le’s family prior to the vigil. As Kugler finished, she brought up Le’s roommate of two years, Natalie Powers GRD ’13, who struggled to describe her friend, fighting back tears. Powers apologized for stumbling through her remembrance.
“That this horrible tragedy would happen at all is incomprehensible,” she said. “But that it happened to her I think is infinitely more so.”
The formal service concluded with a benediction and moment of silence led by Rev. Robert Beloin of St. Thomas More, Yale’s Catholic chapel and center, but even after Levin announced its end attendees milled around for more than an hour, standing individually and in small groups. Some wiped away tears, while others hugged their companions. The crowd — ranging from residential college masters and deans to faculty members and students from graduate and professional schools as well as Yale College — filled the lawn of Cross Campus and spilled over to Calhoun College on one end and the Women’s Table on the other. Many did not know Le personally but felt compelled to be with the community in a time of sadness and confusion.
“I came to show solidarity to a fellow Yale student because we are a community,” Yishai Kamin ’12 said as he left Cross Campus. “It wasn’t just one aspect of the school. The entirety of the school came together.”
Anthony Diaz-Santana, a third-year chemical engineering graduate student at Cornell University, drove to New Haven from Ithaca, N.Y., to attend the vigil held for the girl he met while doing research at the National Institutes of Health. Although they only spent nine weeks together, they kept in touch via Facebook — the same Web site from which Diaz-Santana heard the news of her disappearance.
“I was trying to keep track of the news and when I found out how horribly it ended I just completely broke down,” Diaz-Santana said last night. “This showing is a reflection on her impact on people … you see it here. She has brought a lot of people together.”
Throughout the day, Le’s death affected the daily routine of campus life. Elis heard Harkness Tower’s bells for the first time this year as the tower — currently undergoing a yearlong renovation — was opened to one carillonneur who performed a memorial concert immediately preceding the vigil.
In his popular course Cold War, history professor John Gaddis opened his lecture Monday by saying that it was the saddest day to hold class since the day after September 11, 2001. Gaddis told his students that he considered holding a moment of silence before starting class.
“But what I really want is not silence,” he said. “I want you to call home and tell the folks at home that you’re okay and that you love them.”
While many students received anxious calls from their parents in the days prior, Dean of Yale College Mary Miller sent out an e-mail to parents of undergraduates to reassure them of their children’s safety. In addition to listing Yale’s existing security services, Miller urged parents to tell their children to seek counseling through Yale’s resources if troubled by the events.
Several residential colleges held informal gatherings after the vigil while Yale’s cultural houses held open hours throughout the day.
But for all the talk, perhaps the most profound moment of the day was the silence of Cross Campus as attendees lingered around the steps leading from Sterling Memorial Library to the lawn. Slowly and one-by-one, mourners placed their candles in a single file line along the steps, letting the flames burn as a remembrance of Le’s life cut short.
Reporting was contributed by Isaac Arnsdorf, Zeke Miller, Eric Randall and Margy Slattery.