Campus mourns deceased in annual memorial service

Kore Chan/Staff
UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks speaks at the annual campus memorial service at the flagpole west of California Hall.

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With gray skies overhead and a somber crowd sitting before him, Chancellor Nicholas Dirks asked for a moment of silence to reflect on the UC Berkeley community members who died in the past year.

Some, he said, were taken “at the prime of their lives,” while others “have left us having lived long lives and having helped build Berkeley into the great university that it is today.”

Dirks was speaking at the 12th annual campus memorial service Wednesday, which paid respects to the more than 60 members of the UC Berkeley community who passed away last year.

About 250 people gathered at the flagpole west of California Hall for the afternoon memorial service. In addition to Dirks, the service featured musical performances and a poetry reading, as well as a reading of the names of those who had died.

Among those who passed were renowned professor of sociology Robert Bellah, who was known for his idea of American “civil religion,” and Kenneth Waltz, a prominent thinker in international relations and political theory. Seven undergraduates also were remembered at the service.

“It doesn’t matter how they died,” Dirks said in his opening address. “Every single person that passed away this year was an important member of our Cal family whose loss we all feel deeply. Those of us here who miss and love them have of course mourned them, but today we mourn our losses together.”

Many attendees said  it can be difficult to know how many community members have passed away because of the size of the UC Berkeley campus. Janette Reid, an administrative assistant in the department of molecular and cell biology, said people often find out former colleagues have passed away only because of the yearly campus memorial.

“If the ceremony didn’t happen, I wouldn’t have known she passed,” Reid said, placing her finger on a picture of Wanda Ogletree, a university relations staff member whose photo was placed on the memorial table. “It has been years since we worked together.”

The attendees were not limited to those who had known the deceased. Many said they attended to pay their final respects, while others stopped on their way to class to hear the various songs that were played.

“When we learn of a death, we have to communicate with the impacted community,” said Aaron Cohen, a senior staff psychologist at the Tang Center. “But I came here as my time to grieve — to honor the community but also to have my own space to grieve.”

After Dirks finished his closing remarks, a bagpipe-led procession of UCPD officers marched north, and a flock of doves was released into the skies, signaling the end of the hourlong service.

Jose Hernandez covers campus life. Contact him at [email protected].