Mathematics department graduate student Jonathan “Jonny” Gleason died Jan. 16, and about 30 students and faculty attended a candlelight vigil in his memory in the top-floor lounge of Evans Hall on Wednesday afternoon. Gleason was 28.
Jon Wilkening, the department of mathematics vice chair of graduate affairs, was the first to speak to the attendees and introduced Gleason as a valued member of the campus mathematics community. As a graduate student instructor for eight semesters, Gleason was intensely passionate about studying and teaching mathematics, according to those who attended the vigil.
In highlighting the many ways Gleason touched the lives of students he crossed paths with, Wilkening shared a few student comments at the vigil, some of which were pages long. After he spoke, other planned speakers spoke about their own memories of Gleason.
“(He) was very funny, engaging, and relatable. (His) teaching style caused us to want to learn the material,” read one of the student comments shared by Wilkening. “(He) never, never made us feel like we were lower than him, (treating) us as equals.”
Students remembered Gleason for his openness and extensive assistance in office hours. He would often overextend his hours, taking the time to provide solutions to math problems that were not a part of the required curriculum.
Many students also said they were comforted by Gleason’s presence. Ji Young Noh, a campus statistics department alumna, recounted a time when Gleason instructed her and said she was treated “as if I was one of his friends.”
“I wasn’t even a math major, but decided to take linear algebra, and I’m so glad that it was taught by Jonny,” Noh said. “I remember this one day that I brought up “Game of Thrones,” since season 7 had just been released. We talked and joked about it for hours.”
Gleason’s assigned doctoral mentor, Marc Rieffel, said he was an extremely independent and competent researcher. Gleason’s progress in passing graduate examinations was slow because he had a broad range of mathematical interests, which he would pursue in depth, according to Rieffel.
This sentiment was echoed in another student’s comment read by Wilkening. In the comment, the student recounted a time when Gleason’s bookshelf broke under the weight of the numerous books he kept. The student wrote that Gleason had justified keeping the books because “he didn’t know when he might need to reference them.”
After speakers finished their remarks, audience members were left to mingle and read over Gleason’s notebooks and published textbooks written throughout the course of his graduate career.
“(I) ask that we prize kindness as much as we do intelligence because Johnny was someone who had an abundance of both,” read another student’s comment.