Hundreds of family members, friends, teachers and teammates gathered Sunday in Battell Chapel to honor the memory of Alexander Capelluto ’08, the Berkeley College student who died in a bicycle accident on May 18. Guests hugged, laughed, cried and chatted softly before the service while jazz music played in the background. Members of the light and heavyweight crew teams filed in somberly and sat together on one side of the chapel.
Berkeley Master John Rogers opened the ceremony by addressing the bittersweet nature of the celebration, describing the full life of the young man whose time was tragically cut short.
“He was one of those rare individuals whose generosity and compassion weren’t worn as accessories but seemed to form the very core of his personality,” Rogers said. “What an extraordinary presence.”
Capelluto was described by those who knew him as an outgoing student and friend — an energetic young man whose dedication and love for life spilled over into those around him, whether he was organizing Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, gearing up for a nation-spanning Habitat for Humanity bike challenge or just sitting in his suite under a fluorescent Rolling Rock sign.
“He understood people better than anyone I had ever met,” said Capelluto’s sister, Katherine Capelluto ’04. “He saw goodness in each of us and demanded that we see it in each other.”
Speaking at the service, Capelluto’s friends remembered his caring, love and ability to embrace life while inspiring others to realize their own worth. They said Capelluto made his room and his life open to everyone who came into it.
“He taught me to see life, and I could not have asked for a better teacher,” Tess Borden ’08 said.
A slideshow of pictures and video clips spanning Capelluto’s life — including footage from Capelluto’s high school valedictory speech and an image of a victorious Capelluto pumping his fist in the air after a crew race — concluded the two-hour ceremony, drawing laughter and tears from those in attendance.
Hometown friend Matthew Dennett ’08 remembered Capelluto for his spontaneity and mischievous spirit, as well as for his academic achievements. During the ceremony, Dennett recalled skipping school with Capelluto during their senior year for a “Lord of the Rings” marathon in honor of the release of “Return of the King”.
“Alex had a zest for life, from Model U.N. to just terrible horror movies,” Dennett said.
Walking onto the lightweight crew team his sophomore year, Capelluto made an effort to become part of the team right away, helping organize a fundraising event for Hurricane Katrina relief in the fall, teammate Ben Elkins ’08 said.
“He worked to make it a team fundraiser,” Elkins said. “It was certainly something he didn’t think he could do, but he did it.”
Varsity lightweight head coach Andy Card said Capelluto worked as a catalyst on the team, inspiring teammates to work harder and better.
Although he was not a superstar athlete, Capelluto inspired and encouraged his teammates by living with a fighting spirit, current varsity lightweight crew captain Brendan Stallard ’07 said.
“He embodied the spirit on our team to embrace the dogfights in racing and never give your opponents an inch,” he said. “He rowed with his heart. Everyone could see that.”
After the sudden and harrowing loss of their teammate, Stallard said, the lightweight crew team has tried to take the lessons “Cap” gave them and use them to make something positive out of the tragedy.
“After Cap died, we knew we had to row a little bit more like Cap did,” Stallard said. “Putting skill aside, we needed to remember to be scrappy … because that was Cap’s style and it worked.”
The 20-year-old Capelluto was struck and killed by a 10-wheel truck at the intersection of Derby Avenue and Forest Road in West Haven while biking to campus from the Gilder Boathouse. According to the West Haven Police Department, no one has been charged in the incident, but the accident is still under investigation.
In lieu of flowers, the Capelluto family asked that donations be made to the newly formed Alexander Capelluto Foundation. Focusing on the schools Capelluto attended — the Horace Mann School in Riverdale, N.Y., and Yale — Capelluto’s mother, Karen Capelluto, said the foundation will support students by providing supplementary funds to help them realize their full potential. Donations can be made at the foundation’s Web site, www.alexcap.org.