In less than two months, Elon University has gathered twice to mourn the loss of a student.
Students, faculty and staff gathered on Dec. 9 in the Sacred Space in Numen Lumen Pavilion, to remember the life of Harrison P. Durant, the 23-year-old Elon senior who died Friday.
In the same room with a similar tone of sadness, University Chaplain Jan Fuller said the death was “far too soon.”
“I am sorry we have this loss and I know there aren’t any words to make it better or to explain it to us,” Fuller said. “But we are going to be together in the loss that we feel and the pain we are holding inside.”
But the celebration of his life is what Durant’s family and friends cared most about.
Fuller, who spoke to John and Elizabeth Durant — Harrison’s parents — said their greatest concern was missing the stories shared at the gathering.
The stories told by friends and roommates from Durant’s freshman to senior year filled the room and overpowered the sounds of tears with laughter. Stories shared at the gathering were written down by the Truitt Center staff to be shared with the Durant family.
Senior Alex McLellan, Durant’s roommate this year, remembers Durant as the most genuine person he has ever met.
“Just by having a conversation with him he would make your true self come out,” McLellan said. “I remember the conversations we had while he was in his boxers, cooking rice and beans in a pan, grooving out to his music. That was just the type of guy he was, he didn’t care what other people thought, but he always brought out the best in everyone.”
Friends from Durant’s four years at Elon were present at the gathering to reflect on how fortunate they felt to have known Harrison.
When asked by his mother if he knew “the student that passed,” junior Luke Murray, who lived below Durant in the Hook, Brannock and Barney Residence Halls their freshman year replied, “Oh man did I know him, I was so lucky to.”
“He was so kind and so caring, Harrison was a light for everyone. If you saw him and he saw you all of a sudden that bright smile came across his face,” Murray said. “Everytime I think of him, I just think about that huge smile that he had and about how lucky I was to have met him.”
Senior Jeremy Keyes, Durant’s roommate during their freshman and sophomore years. Keyes recalls how passionate Durant was about the many aspects of his life.
“I will always remember how I would wake up on Sunday morning when there wasn’t a lot going on and Harrison would just be on his bed coding a website or working on his music,” Keyes said. “He was just so incredibly passionate about everything he did and everyone he met.”
Many of Durant’s fellow a cappella members from “Smooth Progression” attended the gathering and remember Durant for his passion to make music.
“He was so sure he wanted to be a beatboxer, he had the rhythm and he was so passionate about getting everything perfect,” said Garcian D’Cruz ’17, a former member of Smooth Progressions. “Having him as a beatboxer was amazing, he was a legend. There was nothing he did that he didn’t put everything he had into.”
As well as music, Durant was known for his skills at coding. Computing science majors who worked with Durant remember him as one of the “strongest coders” at Elon.
This dual passion for coding and music inspired Durant to create his own website, with the purpose of encouraging others to express themselves through music.
Besides his passions, Durant is also remembered for his smile and sense of humor.
Despite Keyes being a Carolina Panthers fan, he recalls one of his favorite gifts given to him on his birthday during sophomore year.
“He gave me this Patriots hat knowing I was a Panthers fan, it was so counterintuitive,” Keyes said. “He didn’t care what team I supported, he just wanted to be a compassionate friend. So he gave me this Patriots hat and you know I realized, I kind of like Tom Brady.”
That hat and story, just like Durant’s life, has affected more than one member of the Keyes family.
“Jeremy getting a Patriots hat for his birthday is a family story. He’s got some grief for it, but we all love that hat,” said Kim Keyes, Jeremy’s mother. “I remember Harrison’s smile the most. It was such a sly smile. It always started off slow and then grew into this big smile. Forgive me for being a parent, but he was just so chill and he made such a big impact on me as well.”
Even those such as senior John Rhodes, who had only met Durant briefly, remember how meeting him made them feel.
“Harrison was a diamond in the rough,” Rhodes said. “In a campus that is notorious for its superficiality, he had this ability to pierce through the humanity of everybody that he met. It was my privilege to experience that because it is such a rare and beautiful thing.”
The grief felt after Durant’s death extends far beyond Elon’s brick walls.
Bryar Loftfield worked with Durant on Star Island, one of the Isles of Shoales in New Hampshire, and was able to attend the gathering of friends.
Loftfield came to the gathering on behalf of the hundreds of workers at Star Island that had worked with Durant.
“Star Island was an incredibly important place for Harrison and the overwhelming number of voices coming from that island is really incredible and moving,” Loftfield said. “All of the things that have been said tonight are echoed again and again in other people’s experiences with Harrison at Star Island.”
Durant’s death is the fourth death of an enrolled Elon student in the past two years. Demitri Allison, a former Elon football player, died Nov. 11, 2015. Derek Winton, a former brother of Sigma Pi Fraternity, died Sept. 10, 2016. Breslin Wiley, a former Elon Club Baseball player, died Oct. 28, 2017.
While the pain of losing a friend and loved one will remain in the hearts of all those that these lives have touched. Durant’s friends leave the Elon community with an important message.
“What happened is so difficult to accept and we will all need to wrestle with that guilt, but this is not anything we had control over,” said senior Sven Carlstrom, Durant’s junior year roommate. “What we do have control over is remembering those we lost by supporting other people we know are struggling in their lives.”
A message that comes with an important challenge.
“I challenge myself and everyone here to carry on Harrison’s memory by being there for each other during these hard times,” said senior Austin Rae, Durant’s freshman year suitemate. “Harrison was there for us and he would want us to be there for one another now.”