Hours after hearing news that Western student Dwight Clark had been found dead, students, faculty, staff and community members gathered in Red Square on the afternoon of Wednesday, Oct. 6. The following are excerpts of the words spoken by Western President Bruce Shepard, Associated Students President Colin Watrin and Western Vice President of Student Affairs Eileen Coughlin.
Western President Bruce Shepard:
Universities are places where we value deep thinking, objectivity, and rationality. They are also places of feeling, emotion, and connectedness. For the simple reasons that universities are not books or microscopes. They are people. We are people. We are a community. At our university, we value feeling, emotion connectedness.
And that brings us here, this afternoon. To grieve deeply and to feel the connectedness. So, our words will be brief. They fail us badly at times like this. It is the being together that matters. This afternoon. In the times ahead.
Opportunities lie ahead to remember Dwight in the fullness that we all wish. Our thoughts right now are with his family. Just this morning, I was able to spend time talking with Dwight's mother. Out of respect for her privacy, I will say only this: I left our discussion with extraordinary admiration for her courage. This afternoon, we cry for her because the pain she now feels must seem unbearable.
Over time, we will better understand the circumstances of Dwight's death. One question we will never understand: Why Dwight? Why loss? Why tragedy?
Here, experience teaches several simple lessons. First, and this can be hard, we must recognize that tragedy is not something we get over. Rather, tragedy changes, changes us as people, as a community. We are different this afternoon than we were some hours ago.
It can be dangerous to think that we can deal with tragedy by doing no more than waiting for time to pass. We must face the tragedy and take control, directing its life-changing forces in ways positive for us, our humanity, our community.
Community. That is my second piece of advice. We must be here for each other because we care about each other.
I ask each of you to consider making a solemn promise. Not to me, but to yourself. If you are feeling pain too great, if you are in distress, or if you see a friend so burdened, do all you can to get help. Talk about it with someone. Waste not an hour of inaction.
We have been together through this last 10 days. I want to thank the students, faculty, staff and the many, many community members who came together to help in countless ways. You probably have not seen it up close and personal like I have, but I also want to thank the Bellingham Police Department and our own campus safety officers, for they have worked tirelessly and relentlessly on this case.
Universities are places of feeling, emotion, connectedness. I ask that we take a moment of silence to remember Dwight, to hold his family in our thoughts, hearts, and prayers, and to feel those invisible but powerful bonds that, here right now, connect each of us to all here gathered.
Associated Students President Colin Watrin:
We gather here today at the news of the loss of Dwight Clark, a son, a brother, a friend, a peer, and a valuable member of the Western community. There are no words to express the grief that we feel in this situation. We are grappling with these emotions and struggling to make sense of something which was senseless.
Over the past week Western students have searched our streets, kept Dwight's family and friends in their thoughts and shown their incredible devotion to their community. To one another and to one of their own. Now is the time to support one another during this process. The pain is sharpest when our worst fears are confirmed. This is the first step and it will be the hardest, but the healing process will begin.
It is important to acknowledge the emotions that you are feeling at this time. They are valid and they are important.
However, they are a burden that no one person should ever have to face alone. Reach out to your friends, your family, to those that you care about most and to anyone you might see struggling during this difficult time.
A week ago Western showed its support for Dwight, his family and friends with a gathering of over 1,000 people. Over the past week our community has shown incredible solidarity and strength by being there when its members need it most, being a shoulder to lean on and being that person to confide in. We need to maintain this strength and support in the time to come. We need to be a Western family.
The one thing Dwight's mom told me was to make sure that I stay safe and for me to make sure that the rest of our community stays safe. In this time of grief it is important to ensure that you and others around you are out of harm's way. The best way for us to do this is to stay together. There is strength in numbers and there is so much strength in this Western community.
Looking out on this gathering, I see hope, hope that we will persevere and that out of this grief we will rise even stronger. I am incredibly proud to call myself a Western Viking, and that all of you and Dwight are a part of my Western family. Let us unite together, support each other in the face of adversity, be compassionate and be a community that we can be proud of, a community that Dwight Clark could be proud of.
Western Vice President for Student Affairs Eileen Coughlin:
Thank you for gathering together. There are no words to remove the deep heartache that goes with this afternoon's announcement. This is exceedingly difficult for Dwight's family and friends, for the Auburn community and for the many volunteers from Western and the Bellingham community. Dwight is a part of us and we feel that loss. There have been many kindnesses and hours of active work that brought people together. We hoped for a different outcome. Each of us will feel that in different way over the coming minutes, hours, days and weeks. Being together is a commitment to support one another and as Bruce Shepard indicated, it is important to pledge to take care of ourselves and seek support as needed. Our counseling center is available and we are distributing information this afternoon for you to take with you.
Please be sensitive to each other. We all process loss differently. The strength of the community is in the patience, care and concern that we demonstrate with one another both here today and in the coming weeks. There are some students, faculty and staff who may not have received the message or could not be here, please share the resources available on campus for anyone who might be in need.
Let us know if there is anything we can do to provide additional support. Thank you for being here and please take care of each other.