‘Everybody’s friend’: UC Berkeley student Seth Smith dies at 19

seth smith obituary
Phil Smith/Courtesy

UC Berkeley student Seth Smith died from a gunshot wound June 15 in Berkeley.

Smith was going into his junior year, which would have also been his last, as he had enough credits to graduate early. He was a double major in history and economics and hoped to go to graduate school at the London School of Economics.

“He made us proud in everything he ever did,” said his mother, Michelle Rode-Smith. “He was phenomenal.”

Before attending UC Berkeley, Smith grew up in Clarksburg, California and attended school in nearby Elk Grove, where his mother worked as a teacher. A graduate of Elizabeth Pinkerton Middle School and Cosumnes Oaks High School, Smith was a model student, according to his teachers, and was heavily involved in the school theater program beginning in the seventh grade.

“It’s always ironic when you have a drama student who has zero drama,” said Smith’s former theater teacher Christina Chun Moslen, discussing Smith’s kindness and warmth. “He was everybody’s friend.”

This sentiment was echoed by Smith’s friends, who described him as someone who never said an unkind word. Smith’s former classmate Jasmine Wang said Smith was so beloved by their eighth grade geometry classmates that they made T-shirts with Smith’s face on them and wore them to PE every Friday for what they named “Seth Day.”

The front of the shirts read “It’s Seth Day! Let’s Grapevine!” a dance move Smith was known for. The back of the shirts listed the six steps to “Sethvana”: “walk like Seth, talk like Seth, dance like Seth, argue like Seth, do good math” and finally, “become the Seth.”

Many middle and high school classmates attributed the tightknit nature of their class to Seth.

“Seth wasn’t just a member of the community; he was a pillar of it,” said Emma Doan, a middle and high school classmate and a rising UC Berkeley junior, in a Twitter message.

In addition to his overwhelming compassion, Smith was known for his intelligence. He was a National Merit Scholarship finalist, and Chun Moslen described him as a student who took “AP everything.”

“Even in seventh grade, he was brilliant,” Doan said in the Twitter message. “He had the vocabulary of a college professor and always asked questions that made us stop and think.”

Smith was an avid reader, forcing his parents to take away his books when he stayed up too late reading. His former classmate Fabian Rodriguez said the same thing used to happen in fourth grade, as Smith would be caught reading books under his desk during class.

His fellow students described him as enthusiastically himself and endearingly quirky, with former classmate and castmate Emma Wehrli remembering him always making people smile.

“You didn’t have to be close to him to understand the impact he made,” said Smith’s high school classmate and fellow UC Berkeley student Engelberta Yue in an email.You see it in the people whose lives he touched, in our happy memories of him, every single day.”

Smith is survived by his mother Michelle, father Phil and younger sister Madeline.

Contact Claire Daly at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @DalyClaire13.