As news spread of the death of Luchang Wang ’17 Tuesday evening, classmates, friends and mentors remembered a young woman whose intellect was matched only by her compassion, whose care for her academic work ran as deep as her concern for the injustices she observed in the world around her. Wang died in an apparent suicide on Tuesday.
“Luchang was the kind of person that all people are supposed to be,” said Leigh Vila ’17, Wang’s suitemate. “There was absolute perfection in the way that she loved other people — and showed that she loved them.”
Vila added that Wang was constantly doing “small, beautiful things” to show her suitemates she cared. Wang would often decorate their door handles with tiny toys or pick flowers for them on her runs to East Rock, Vila said.
A mathematics major in Silliman College, Wang distinguished herself through her involvement with the Yale Political Union’s Party of the Left, Yale Effective Altruists and the Yale Record.
Wang, who was 20 years old, attended high school in West Des Moines, Iowa, where she ran cross-country and won recognition for her academic excellence. In 2010, she led her high school to victory in the Ames Laboratory/Iowa State University Regional High School Science Bowl. That same year, she tied for 18th place nationwide in the Math Prize for Girls contest and was one of 98 students nationwide to win the prestigious Siemens Award for Advanced Placement. She was also a candidate for the United States Department of Education’s Presidential Scholars program.
Students who knew her at Yale described her as a selfless and giving classmate who cared deeply about doing good for other people.
“Her motivation in life was to make the world a better place,” said Tammy Pham ’15, Wang’s close friend and fellow Effective Altruists member. “It’s sad to see someone with such a pure love go like this.”
From their very first conversation, Wang demonstrated remarkable openness and intimacy, said Caroline Posner ’17, who met Wang through the Party of the Left. She was soft-spoken and modest, Posner added.
“When she spoke at party debates, it was out of a sense of duty to engage the room, never a desire to hear herself speak, as it often is for many of us,” Posner wrote in an email. “She was so ridiculously grateful for a life that was never easy or fair to her.”
Wang’s sense of civic duty extended beyond Yale’s campus. She cared deeply about social justice, traveling to New York City and marching in honor of Michael Brown with people she had never met, said Carlee Jensen ’15, who also befriended Wang through the YPU. Jensen added that Wang never hesitated to push her intellectually, challenging her whenever she said something flippant or tried to avoid a serious question.
Wang’s mental acuity also extended to her satirical work. Wang demonstrated an “original comedic mind,” said Aaron Gertler ’15, chairman of the Yale Record. From his encounters with Wang, both on the Record and in the Effective Altruists, Gertler said her input was always “kind, necessary and relevant.”
David McGinnis, Wang’s high school debate coach, remembered her as a “brilliant and talented young woman.” She was one of the best public forum debaters in the country, he said. During her junior year of high school, she and her partner qualified for the national Tournament of Champions after just two rounds of competition — the fastest that anyone can qualify.
“I don’t know what else to say,” McGinnis wrote in an email. “I want very badly for this not to have happened. She should have long outlived me.”
Astronomy professor Priyamvada Natarajan, a longtime supporter of the Math Prize for Girls, presented Wang with her award in 2010. She said Wang was a gifted young woman.
Natarajan described Wang’s passing as a “devastating loss to our community and for the future of mathematics.”
Silliman College Master Judith Krauss held a gathering in her house Tuesday evening for all Yale students to come together and offer each other support. Krauss told the News she believed Wang loved Yale and the “hope she found here, especially through her friends and classmates.”
Krauss added that the Silliman community, the YPU and many others are trying to make sense of this painful loss.
Posner said her memories of Wang will always be of her smiling.
“It reminds me of that Roald Dahl quote: ‘If you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely,’” Posner wrote. “Luchang — who was stunning regardless — looked like she had sunbeams shining out of her whole being.”
Wang is survived by her mother, father and a younger sister.