Early yesterday morning, as we welcomed hundreds of new Yalies to campus, we learned that we had lost one of our own. Michele Dufault ’11 was a beloved Saybrugian, Yale Precision Marching Band saxophonist and budding scientist. Her death comes five weeks before she would have graduated from our university, during a week dedicated to looking forward to the upcoming year.
For Michele’s family and many friends, today marks the beginning of a deep grief. For those of us who knew her less well or not at all, today was a day of regret and revelation: the regret that we had not spent more time with Michele when we had a chance; the revelation that, even in death, a bright and beautiful student can remind us of all that makes our community of friends so special.
At the vigil held in Saybrook Wednesday evening, acting Master Edward Kamens recounted what about Michele her friends said they would most remember. Their answers: Drive. Awesomeness. Beauty of person, spirit and mind. During the vigil, Michele’s care for those around her, wide-ranging passion and unbounded curiosity shone clearly, even through tragedy. In her we recognized the qualities that brought us to Yale and still mark our best moments here.
In the past two years, our campus has faced far too many vigils. But each time, through the sorrow, we remember how well we support one another in moments of trauma.
But what we were compelled to remember in those moments was that Yale is filled with extraordinary people like Michele — people who are able to decipher complicated theorems, read the stars and support one another.
The memorial for Michele featured Yale traditions that usually mark more joyful scenes: The YPMB, of which she was a talented member, blasted its horns, white handkerchiefs flew in the air, and voices rang out with “Bright College Years.” The same songs will be sung at the Saybrook senior dinner at the end of this semester and played at countless football games come fall.
But when the YPMB finished their rendition of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” there was no energetic clapping. Instead, isolated sobs filled a hollow silence. Though this time the music brought tears to our eyes instead of cheers to our mouths, it showed that Michele’s vigil was no less a Yale event than Commencement. She brought us together.
One of her friends explained that Michele would not have wanted us to go out of our way to do anything for her, even though she constantly did so for others. That was just her nature. As we looked at the crowd, noting how each person at the ceremony took time out of their schedules to honor Michele, we were reassured of the strength of our campus. At our best, we are a community that reaches out to one another, that bakes one another surprise cakes on our birthdays, that takes the long walk up Science Hill just to accompany a friend.
Throughout the rest of this week, administrators, professors and students will tell prefrosh what makes Yale special. They will talk about the residential college system, freshman seminars, and the diverse talents and pursuits of their classmates. But we have all been forced to remember that it is people like Michele who truly set Yale apart, who make it more than just an exceptional university. That makes her death all the more difficult to bear.