A single white candle burned through the silence at Marsh Memorial Chapel on the evening of Sept. 8, 2011. Students and faculty gathered amongst an air of despondency and confusion to reflect upon the loss of one of our own.
Class of 2015 member Philip M. White passed away earlier that morning in the arms of his family at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield. The 18-year-old White was admitted to the hospital earlier that week when he was found unconscious by his roommate in his Massasoit Hall room on Monday night. White remained in critical condition from self-inflicted injuries until Thursday when he was taken off of life support. Parents, siblings, aunts and uncles surrounded his bedside during this time of grief.
The Springfield College community was confronted with the painful loss of a peer and student that many of its members were not fortunate enough to get to know in his four short days here on campus. Springfield College student body president Kristina Dupuis attended the gathering at Marsh Memorial Chapel on Thursday night. Dupuis says there are many students on campus who are in need of support.
“Nobody exactly knows the true story; it is not our business,” said Dupuis. “What is our business is supporting those who were affected and to support our community during this tragedy, and that’s what it is: a tragedy. It is a big deal.”
White was from Tamuning, Guam, which is a United States Pacific island territory located in the Western Pacific Ocean. While visiting family in Connecticut and eastern Massachusetts, White discovered Springfield College and arrived on campus this September to pursue a major in exercise science.
New Student Orientation (NSO) was White’s first contact with his peers at Springfield, and his NSO leaders say he enjoyed the people he was around and embraced campus culture with a smile. White’s leaders say he did not seem to give any indication of distress to those around him. Springfield junior Christina Cetti and senior Corey Podbielski spent the four days of New Student Orientation as White’s leaders.
Cetti and Podbielski said that White seemed to enjoy NSO. “Phil was very quiet and shy, but he didn’t hesitate to join in on group games and songs,” said Cetti.
“Phabulous Phil,” as he was dubbed by his group, was a Boston Red Sox fan and supporter of New England professional sports. According to his NSO leaders White spoke five languages and enjoyed reading this year’s summer book Outcasts United.
Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Dr. David Braverman was one of the first responding members of the Springfield administration to address the student body. “The beautiful thing about Springfield College is we are small, and together, we can celebrate victories and be happy for each other’s successes,” said Braverman. “But it is also tragic because if something happens to one of us, it happens to all of us.”
The Springfield College flag was lowered to half-staff on Thursday to recognize White’s passing. The loss of a short life is something that resonates sharply on a small college campus, and support for those in need has surely become a community focus.
Although members of this school continue to struggle to make sense of such a tragedy, Dupuis says the flickering of the flame in Marsh gave the Springfield family a common understanding.
“The main thing that students took out of this is to be grateful,” said Dupuis. “Events like this make people grateful for what they do have and grateful just to be alive.”
Sean Seifert may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org