By Elaine Cashy
Every year upon returning to the Hill, I am shocked with how quickly I ease back into my Denison life. How quickly the phrase “I’m going back to my dorm” becomes “I’m going back home.”
I haven’t been in this home since last December, but within a few days, sore calves from inclined treks and multiple e-mails from the mailroom reminding me of my arrived books were the perfect welcoming for my senior year.
As syllabus week came to a close, my welcome quickly turned to worry, and eventually sorrow. The death of Wendell Jackson ’17 sent a ripple of aching loss throughout the Denison community. The university grieved as a whole; even those who did not know Jackson felt the pain of his loss. The loss of a 21-year-old student: involved, active and loved.
With this tragedy came a sense of togetherness and support. Students and faculty drifted in and out of Swasey Chapel on Tuesday, Sept. 1, in groups of various sizes. Hugs were shared, whispers exchanged and a community remained intact in the form of squeezed hands and watery smiles.
Although the excitement from my welcomed return to campus ended 5:30 p.m., Aug. 31 with the Emergency Alert email inquiring about Jackson’s whereabouts, the community-wide response to this alert exposed the core structure of the Denison community: closeness. A foundation rusted over with the little dramas of Denison life was put to use once more by the overwhelming concern for Wendell
As wax dripped down my candle and onto my fingertips at the vigil for Jackson on Wednesday, Sept. 2, I recognized the foundation on which I built my home here. I recognized the unity, the comfort and the strength of Denison as lit candles filled the grassy slope where the university ached together for Wendell.
Words weren’t exchanged, because they fell short of what needed to be said. Instead, students spoke through their presence. We were there for Wendell, for each other, for our home.
As a senior, I was reminded of the place Denison truly is. Over my three years here, our foundation of togetherness seemed to cripple under the stress of overfilled schedules, the somewhat superficial social life and the general worries of college students ranging from forgotten mailbox combinations to internship and job searching.
However, when the community needed the core closeness to mourn Jackson’s death, a closeness that I believe is unique to Denison, we came together without hesitation. We held each other in the pews of Swasey, we sat cross-legged in the candle-lit grass, we left words of comfort around campus and we actively made an effort to help each other with our pain.
This unity is how it should always be when we come home.