La’akea Sky Smith was known as a brother to more than just his family. A practicing Buddhist, the UC Berkeley junior wrote poetry, practiced traditional Tibetan dance and would get “stoked” about the mundane things in life, according to his best friend, Grant Harrison.
Two weeks ago, the recent transfer into the College of Natural Resources died from injuries sustained in a vehicular accident on the night of Sept. 8. Smith had attended classes for just one week when he was hit by an SUV while riding his motorcycle in Oakland and died early the next morning. He was 23.
Many friends and family members described him as passionate and goofy with a wide variety of interests — an intellectual who enjoyed surfing, meditating and playing guitar.
“Sky was excited about everything he was involved with — he didn’t have his identity rooted in just one thing,” said Harrison, a UC Berkeley junior. “He made life light and joked about everything.”
Harrison said that as a friend, Smith made an effort to be inclusive and had a sense of humor that made “others feel funny.”
“People were immediately drawn to his brilliance, his love and compassion,” said his mother, Janet Graves. “After his passing, what was revealed to me was just how many communities he had been a part of and how many people he had impacted.”
Smith was born in Hawaii and moved to Idaho in 2003. Four years later, he moved to Santa Cruz, where he lived in a Buddhist center with his mother and younger brother. Though he graduated from high school as a National Merit Scholar, he declined a full scholarship to the University of Idaho at Moscow and instead stayed home to improve his health. He enrolled in Cabrillo College in Aptos, Calif., in 2008.
While attending community college, Smith was part of the college’s honors program and founded a sustainability initiative on campus. He entered UC Berkeley this fall as a conservation and resource studies major, intending to focus on ecology and sustainability issues.
Michael Mangin, a history professor from Cabrillo College, described Smith as a good combination of a writer and a thinker, always willing to go for the more difficult analyses in his papers.
“In community college, you meet people with all sorts of experiences. Sky was very young, but he had already absorbed a lot of life and was very open and passionate,” Mangin said. “He needs to be recognized for the jewel that he was.”
Graves said she remembers her son for his sense of humor — she said Smith used to wink at everyone he knew. His colleagues at the bistro he worked at joked about having a jar for money every time someone had been “winked at by Sky.”
In his first week on campus, Smith met with the College of Natural Resources academic adviser Eva Wong to plan out his time at UC Berkeley.
“He was really excited to be here and get started with the next chapter in his life,” Wong said. “From my brief interactions with Sky, I could tell he was going to be a special student.”
Since his passing, friends and family have expressed their condolences through social media and have also held memorials for Smith. Additionally, the honors program at Cabrillo College is considering establishing a scholarship in his name for future students transferring to UC Berkeley, said program adviser Carolyn Jackson.
He is survived by his parents, two brothers and two sisters.
“After he passed, his friends assured me that he was 100 percent happy with his life,” Graves said. “His last post on his Facebook was, ‘My life turns me on.’ He was so grateful to be here.”