By: Bridget Cunningham '21
The campus community gathered in the Nott Memorial early Thursday evening for a moving service to celebrate the life of Alexander Askenazy ’20.
The 19-year-old passed away in his residence hall Sunday from an existing medical condition.
A biochemistry major from Albuquerque, N.M., Alex was an avid hockey fan and played goalie for Union's club hockey team. He was also president of the fencing club.
News of his death shattered the calm of campus that morning, leaving many to struggle with a profound sense of loss and sadness.
The 45-minute service was a chance for the hundreds who filled the Nott to remember and grieve, and to shed tears and to laugh, said Viki Brooks, director of Religious and Spiritual Life.
“Alex lived life fully and died much too soon,” she said, as images of Alex flashed on a screen behind her. Mementoes that served as poignant reminders of his life decorated the podium. Three goalie sticks. Home and away hockey jerseys with his number 11. A fencing sword and mask. A snare drum. A backpack.
“Alex’s friends, who show the depth of love shared among them with uncommon authenticity, have been the major designers of today’s tribute. From the artifacts all around me to the programs you hold, to the voices you will hear in spoken and sung word, all are a result of these young people knowing how best to honor their friend.”
One of Alex’s closest friends, Kyle Doney ’20 tenderly read his translation of the beautiful elegiac poem, Cattulus 101.Written by the Roman poet Gaius Valerius Catullus as a tribute to his dead brother, it ends with Cattulus saying goodbye. Doney was joined by Brian Zick ’19, who read the Latin version:
Brother, through many people and across many seas,
I have arrived at these wretched funeral rites for thee,
So that I might honor you with the final gift which the dead receive,
And in vain I might address your silent ash.
Since indeed fate stole you from me
Alas, poor brother stolen from me prematurely
But even so, accept these words,
As a sorrowful gift for the funeral rites,
Which are wet with familial tears,
And so forever, hail and farewell, brother.
Maddie Goldberg ‘20 followed with a moving a cappella performance of the James Taylor hit “Fire and Rain,” somberly capturing the mood many have found themselves in since Sunday with the lyrics: “I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend, but I always thought that I'd see you again.”
Roderick Landreth ‘20, Alex’s roommate their first year, called him trustworthy, brave and loyal with a wonderful sense of humor.
Another friend, Lindsey Randle ’20, joined him in the fencing club. He taught her so much about the sport she said, and about life.
“It’s not possible to explain how lucky I was to know him and gotten so close to him,” she said, sobbing. “We all loved him so much.”
Alex was a huge fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings.” Aaron Rapaport ’20 chose the poem, “In the western lands beneath the sun” from the third book, “Return of the King,” to honor his friend. He also shared a quote from the fictional wizard Gandalf:
“It will be better to ride back three together than one alone. Well, here at last, dear friends, on the shores of the Sea comes the end of our fellowship. Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.”
Michelle Ricci Bell, associate professor of German, talked of Alex’s intellect, curiosity and sense of humor. Glancing at his friends in the first few rows, she said, “You chose well in choosing to share your life with Alex. But Alex chose well also.”
A frequent study companion of Alex was his classic rock playlist featuring more than 200 songs. Music from that playlist filled the Nott before and after the service. In tribute, the Dutch Pipers performed their a cappella version of “Africa” by Toto.
In reflecting on Alex’s passing, an emotional President Stephen C. Ainlay was reminded of the words of the French philosopher and writer Simone de Beauvoir. She wrote that when death occurs, it is like a plane engine stopping in midflight.
“No matter when it occurs, it is always difficult, it always leaves a hole,” Ainlay said. “When it happens at Alex’s age, it is doubly difficult.”
Turning to Alex’s parents, Philip Askenazy and Wendy Hansen, Ainlay assured them that their son remains part of the Union family and by extension, so do they.
“We hope that you feel our institutional embrace,” he said. “We hope that this provides comfort.”
He called Alex an exceptional student, a loyal and caring friend and someone deeply engaged in the life of the College.
He shared the story of a note he received from one of Alex’s professors, Scott Kirkton, associate professor of biology. Kirkton mentioned that Alex always thanked him at the end of each class. Ainlay encouraged those in attendance to honor Alex’s memory by appreciating the opportunities afforded them and those who surround them.
“We can all take comfort in knowing that Alex’s was a life well lived,” Ainlay said. “We can all take comfort in knowing he appreciated and loved this College and his many friends. We can all count ourselves lucky that he chose Union. I know I’m very proud and grateful that he did.”