‘Follow the lights and come stay with us’
University community unites for candlelight vigil to honour three lives suddenly lost.
By MICHAEL BROWN
(Edmonton) Parts of a grieving University of Alberta community left heartbroken by the sudden loss of three of its own gathered on campus Wednesday night to begin the healing.
Close to 150 people attended a candlelight vigil held to honour the lives of former arts students and friends Zixuan Huang, Guanming Wang and Shitong Zhao, who died in a single vehicle rollover in Edmonton Feb. 16 that left a fourth person clinging to life.
“It is with great sadness that we gather here tonight,” said Olive Yonge, interim provost and vice-president (academic). “We can only imagine the difficult days that lie ahead as you come to terms with the loss of your friends and the very painful journey families make as they come to Edmonton.”
Yonge talked of how the fond memories of the three students will act as a source of some comfort in the coming days, as will the U of A community and its range of support services.
“We need help and we do that together. It is in doing this that we will find peace.”
Yonge was followed by Zheng Kang, president of the U of A Chinese Students and Scholars Association, which organized the vigil. Kang began his uplifting talk describing the difficulties students face in leaving their home country to pursue their dreams abroad, and how those pressures are stemmed by the camaraderie found in the friendships they make in their new homes.
“And while we had never seen or spoken with each other before we left our homeland, and were total strangers to each other, now we were friends, we were colleagues, we were partners, we were classmates, we were schoolmates,” he said.
The gathering coincided with Chinese New Year’s Eve, or Spring Festival, one of the most important holidays in Chinese culture, and a time for families to reunite.
“For most of us it has been years that we have not been able to celebrate this festival with our families, but today love brings us all together,” said Kang. “We are here to keep our two brothers and a sister company, to be with them and celebrate their very last Spring Festival on campus. Hopefully they are able to see our candlelights and follow the lights and come stay with us. We will walk you through this Spring Festival one last time.
“After today we wish you to rest in peace and we will always remember you in our hearts.”
U of A chaplain Richard Reimer offered some words of solace on behalf of the U of A Chaplains Association. Consul Qiao Zhengshun from the Education Office within the Consulate General of China in Vancouver made an emotional but encouraging speech.
After a long silence, mourners began placing their candles in the snow in the university’s Quad.
Earlier in the day, campus flags were lowered to half-mast for the three students, all of whom had come to the U of A from Shenzhen, China. Huang, 20, and Wang, 24, were undergraduate students in the Department of Economics. Zhao, 20, was last enrolled at the U of A one year ago.
Upon learning of the tragedy, President Indira Samarasekera offered her condolences to the families and friends of the deceased, and urged all members of the university community who have been affected to reach out to the supports available from the university and the surrounding community.
“This is a sad day for the University of Alberta, and most especially for the families and those closest to these young people,” she wrote. “I know that our supportive community will come together and hope that our caring thoughts will, over time, help bring some small measure of peace to those who have lost loved ones this weekend.”
Students in residence are encouraged to contact a resident assistant or other residence staff. All students can access the following supports on campus:
Counselling and Clinical Services (CCS)
2nd floor SUB
Open 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Mon, Thurs, Fri; open 8 a.m.–7 p.m. Tue and Wed
University of Alberta International – Student Services
International Centre (172 HUB)