When I met Emily, she was a bright-eyed freshman saxophone player with sun-kissed skin from the long band camp hours. I don't remember the exact moment I met her, but I do remember her smile. That's what everyone thinks of first when they think of Emily. Her smile was contagious, brighter and more sincere than most. Her smile lit up her entire face; it was impossible not to give her one in return. It didn't take more than a second to figure out that Emily was someone worth knowing, someone so easy to befriend. And it didn't take more than a second for all of the Kappa Deltas to think, secretly or not-so-secretly, "Yep. She's 'our people.'"
I can hardly remember a time in my college career when she wasn't there, even though she arrived two years after I started. Her presence was steadfast; though she never made a show of herself or felt the need to stand out, she didn't go unnoticed. This quiet ability to always be there for others was treasured but sometimes taken for granted. When someone is so perfectly wonderful to you at all times, you sometimes forget to say "thank you."
Emily worked ridiculously hard, but you would never know how stressed out she was because genuine happiness and concern for others' wellbeing was first and foremost in her mind. Sometimes she felt insecure among others in the music department, but she always persevered through these challenges, never asking anyone to pity her. It was fun to watch her bloom before our eyes as a musician and a teacher, gaining confidence along the way.
Every time I saw Emily, she would flash me this goofy scrunched-up-nose grin face in an effort to make me smile. It became our little game. I'd round the corner and see her and BOOM: awkward face. She'd sneak up behind me, tap me on the shoulder, and BOOM: squinty-eyed smile. It never failed to turn my day around, no matter what was going on. But part of me wishes I had spent more time moving past that silly smile game and really focusing on the girl behind it. What was she going through? What did she need help with? What was making her smile? How was that boyfriend of hers treating her? Was she happy? What did she think of school and Kappa Delta?
I wasn't really really close to Emily, but she was always someone I was excited to see when I came back to visit after graduation. She made me feel important, like I was someone she admired and enjoyed being around. She had that way with people, making them walk away feeling better about themselves.
A week and a half ago, we lost Emily. She succumbed to a tragic car accident on her way home for spring break. This beautiful twenty-two-year-old, whose presence we always felt, was no longer there to give us her smile, to lift us up. And we were left. Broken. Shattered. Confused. Angry. Despondent. Horrified. Numb. Then came all of the questions. Why? How? WHY?
Though I was grateful to have heard the news over the phone, social media, though sometimes destructive and discouraging, became our refuge. As word spread like wildfire, Facebook and Twitter exploded with pictures and anecdotes of our time with Emily. We shared our grief, smiled at our stories, and comforted one another. It gave us the opportunity to band together, even though we were all miles and cities and states apart and battling our own versions of grief. It amazes me how much the world has changed even in the twenty-three short years I've lived and that it often takes significant moments to measure those changes.
We mourned and celebrated Emily's life and death this past week and it was truly one of the hardest things I've ever gone through. But what stood out to me the most was the gift that Emily gave us by bringing us all together. Sisters and friends, graduates and current students, had the opportunity to come together and share in the honor that was being a part of Emily's life. Petty disagreements and unsettled feelings among all of us seemingly melted away, leaving only love. It also showed me how much of an impact that genuine kindness has on the world around us. People will never forget how you made them feel and Emily made us feel great.
It's in these moments that we discover what it really means to be a friend, a daughter, a sister, a part of a community. As someone who has served my sorority in a variety of ways, I thought I knew what sisterhood really meant, but Emily showed me it is so much more. I've never been more proud to be a Kappa Delta and to be a Westminster College alumnae. These two communities help one another more than I've ever witnessed before.
We've all spent a lot of time sorting through our emotions, sharing our thoughts, and mourning. For once I feel like I've allowed myself to grieve, something I haven't always let myself do in the past. Most of all, however, we've all done a lot more thanking and appreciating. We've publicly and privately murmured our gratitude toward Emily for all she has done for us, toward God for allowing us to be a part of her life, and toward each other for the support.
Let's all strive to be more like Emily. To live life a little brighter. To ask more questions. To smile more. To give others the opportunity to shine. To love more.
Thanks for everything, Em. We love you.