Over 200 students, faculty and family gathered Thursday afternoon in Battell Chapel for a memorial service honoring Michele Dufault ’11, who died two weeks ago in a machine shop accident in Sterling Chemistry Laboratory. The hour-long service celebrated the Saybrook senior’s life, as those close to Dufault shared stories of her inspirational passion for science and her love for others.
Saybrook Acting Master Edward Kamens ’74 GRD ’82 observed that, although many on campus were currently feeling the anxiety related to saying goodbye to friends and teachers as graduation nears, those in the room were coping with Dufault’s absence.
“We had no chance to say goodbye as we might have wished to do, in the right time and the right place,” Kamens said. “That is why we are gathered here today.”
University Chaplain Sharon Kugler encouraged the audience to rely on love for each other and for oneself, remembering Dufault’s life and giving thanks for what she gave those who knew her. As Kamens said, she was “the inspiring, beloved friend.”
Several of her peers and professors spoke during the service, sharing stories in, what was called in the program, an “oral collage” that highlighted many of Dufault’s qualities, including enthusiasm, persistence, independence and humility. Friends shared memories of Dufault playing Frisbee, walking in the rain and watching funny YouTube videos.
Physics Department Chair Meg Urry remembered Dufault’s laboratory work, avid class participation and work planning of the Northeast Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics. Dufault was “a part of the physics family,” Urry said.
Beyond her own interest in the subject, Dufault encouraged all around her to appreciate the sciences, in particular serving as a leader to many young women in the sciences, while still transmitting this passion to everyone around her. Friend Mana Ikebe ’11 recalled Dufault’s discussion of the scientific data plotted on her computer screen when they went to get coffee, and Associate Professor of Physics Witold Skiba told the story of finding Dufault crouched on the sidewalk, moving stray caterpillars back to the grass.
The Yale Precision Marching Band, of which Dufault was a member, played during the service and, at the memorial’s end, led those in attendance in a procession across Old Campus to a reception at the Saybrook Master’s house. All were given a bottle of soap bubbles upon exiting in recognition of Dufault’s appreciation for even the simplest science.
“Let us leave this celebration lighter hearted than when we began,” said Dufault’s mother, Diane Quintin Dufault, encouraging all to live with the same curiosity her daughter had. “Whatever it was that made us better for having known her, we need to hold closer to our hearts… We all would benefit from taking a little bit of Michele with us.”