Thursday, October 24, 2013

Tragedy illuminates Hopkins' support system

(An editorial I authored for the 9/29 edition of the JHU Newsletter).

This past week, heavily armed terrorists killed more than 60 innocent civilians at the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. Among the dead included 2004 SAIS alumna Elif Yavuz, her partner Ross Langdon and their unborn child. Langdon was an award-winning architect and humanitarian who designed buildings across Africa, specializing in human development and sustainability. Yavuz was a malaria specialist who had worked at the World Bank, conducted fieldwork with AIDS patients in Tanzania and Kenya and graduated from the Harvard School of Public Health last year. A member of the Clinton Foundation, she was visited by former President Clinton himself just a month before her death.

Senseless tragedies like these have a humanizing effect on otherwise abstract death tolls. Reports of faraway violence are not uncommon in the daily news, but they are particularly heart-wrenching when a locally recognized face is among the victims. Losing someone so close to home grants much-needed perspective on the petty concerns of our day-to-day lives.

Yet, even as we grieve Yavuz’s death, the Editorial Board cannot help but be inspired by her life. While the events of this week remind us that problems persist in the developing world, they also remind us that brave Hopkins alumni are on the front lines of the struggle to solve those problems. Every day, Hopkins equips its students with the tools they will need to rise, meet and defeat the global challenges of the next generation. Every day, thousands of Hopkins alumni use that education to make the world a better place. Elif Yavuz’s life stands as a testament to the selflessness and dedication of those heroes. Her mourners should take comfort in the knowledge that the impact made by her and those like her will last far longer than her brief but busy life.

Furthermore, the overwhelming response here on campus speaks volumes about the Hopkins community. In the hours following the University’s email announcement, the campus was abuzz with expressions of shock, horror, solidarity and support. To whatever extent social media can read the pulse of a community, it should be noted that numerous Facebook news feeds were peppered with student statuses honoring the victims. Anyone would lament such horrors, but Hopkins affiliates seemed particularly affected by the loss of one of our own. Most current students have never met Elif, but many felt a connection to what happened nonetheless. Amidst busy schedules full of classes, essays and the first wave of midterms, Hopkins students took the time to read and reflect on that connection.

We suspect not all schools would respond with such sincere care and concern to the death of a single affiliate. Hopkins seems to have produced the diverse alumni network of a larger university without losing its close-knit small-school charm and unity. Current undergraduates are no doubt reassured that whatever obstacles they encounter, their Hopkins peers and colleagues have their back.

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