It didn’t matter if you knew Derek Winton, the fifth-year senior at Elon who died early Saturday morning. The loss of a community member — less than three weeks into our academic year — is painful for all. And for a campus that often moves too quickly into our own organizational silos, it’s important for all of us to stop, slow down and be there for each other in this time of grieving.
To grieve, you must remember. So, remember Derek. Remember him for his contagious smile and the distinct laugh that so many of his friends say always made their day even better. Or for his ability to stop, give you undivided attention and truly, genuinely, have a conversation with you. Or for that time he rolled his window down to sing “Defying Gravity.” Remember him for his deep love and passion for service and the role model he served as for the many children he worked with through the It Takes a Village Project. In whatever way you can, remember him.
The Elon community has been through a lot. Many of us are still healing from those we have lost over the past two years, including Trent Stetler, a member of the class of 2017, who died in January 2015; Demetri Allison, also a member of the class of 2017, who died in November 2015; and Heidi Frontani, professor of geography and beloved member of the Elon faculty for more than 17 years, who died in February 2016.
Our hearts have all paused to the subject line “Death of an Elon Student” too many times these past few years. But time and time again, the community has come together to show that in our hardest times, we are truly at our strongest.
Our collective strength and love for the community has always been there. It was there in the form of a crowd outside Stetler’s freshmen dorm when community members gathered to plant a tree in his memory. It was there, pouring out of Rhodes Stadium Allison's friends organized a vigil in his honor. It was there when Student Government Association honored the legacy of Frontani with a passing of legislation that granted two $500 scholarships to a local charity. And it was there just a few days ago on Sunday, Sept. 11, through the warmth of community members who packed the Sacred Space in Numen Lumen to remember Derek.
The thoughtful leadership, courage and strength we have shown as a collective community during times of tragedy have gotten us through difficult times in the past, and this will not be any different. So, as you remember Derek, do not hesitate to lean on this community. Everyone here is invested in keeping his legacy alive and in supporting each other through this grieving process.