Student deaths bring sorrow, opportunity for connection

In the Sept. 19 edition of the Exponent, we featured and profiled the several faculty members who passed away during the summer months. Since that time, we’ve lost several other members of our MSU community, including three students in the past month.

Out of respect and sympathy, the Exponent decided not to formally cover the deaths in our pages. Though student-journalists, we are primarily MSU students, and wanted to respect the many members of our community privately grieving the loss of a friend.

Yet the students lost were extraordinary people and peers; their accomplishments and presence deserve to be recognized.

Carolyn Thompson was at MSU double majoring in mechanical engineering and mechanical engineering technology (MET). Originally from Eugene, Ore., she was secretary of the MSU Equestrian Team and placed first at her last show. She was kind, gentle, and had unparalleled passion for animals and nature.

Conner Firstman, with his huge laugh and contagious smile, was the star of any room he entered. He attended MSU to study film, and worked as a videographer for the athletic department, tirelessly capturing highlights of the Bobcat sports he adored. The Portland native also publicly fought his battle with chondrosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, and served as an inspiration to all whom interacted with him.

Aaron Plowman was a charismatic English major from Soulsbyville, Calif. He was a talented and beautiful writer, and attacked every aspect of his life with enthusiasm, a witty sense of humor and a never-fading smile. He was set to graduate next fall.

All three of their lives were vibrant and their presence left a mark on MSU — a mark that will continue long after their deaths, impacting the whole Bobcat community.

At the core, grief is a deeply personal experience. Everyone handles it differently, and it’s hard to comfort those most affected, who have suddenly lost a friend, family member or loved one.

In times like these, words fall short and worlds shatter. We don’t know what to do, how to move forward, or how to fill the expansive void left by their absence. We’re saddened and weary, and we feel like we can’t protect those around us from pain.

So we carry on. We’re sad, but we do our best to support our friends with a mixture of sensitivity and sympathy. We remember our lost friend’s laugh and smile, their passion and commitment and the way they lit up the world.

The tragedy can be as melancholy as an empty chair in a usually full classroom, as sharp as the absences of a friend’s smile, or as overwhelmingly devastating as the loss of a best friend or better half.

Everyone knows that life is fragile and their time on earth is limited, yet this sentiment does nothing to blunt the knife of an unexpected and sudden loss of a friend, classmate or loved one.

Losing a fellow student — a friend, classmate and peer — is painful goodbye we’ve faced far too many times in the past year, and one that isn’t getting any easier. Nor should it.

Though loss and grieving tears us apart, it can also enable us to come together as a community. The “MSU family” solidarity has no stronger potential than in times of crisis. After all, as MSU students, we’re an assortment of individuals, but we’re a also a collective that study, interact and live together for a number of years. A loss of any member is a woeful blow to the whole, and affects everyone.

As always, I can be reached for question and comment at editor@exponent.montana.edu.