The Thistle Volume 13, Number 2: Dec., 2000/Jan., 2001.

Remembering Lucy da Silva

On Monday, Dec. 4, family, friends and concerned community members gathered to honor the memory of Lucy da Silva, a charismatic and well loved young woman who tragically fell to her death the previous week in what many believe was a suicide. Students, faculty, and administrators filled the campus chapel to support one another and reflect on the loss of a life that deeply touched so many. At the ceremony, Lucy’s mother, Linda, shared many fond memories with those gathered. She told how Lucy learned Portuguese at home and was somewhat embarrassed at first to be speaking in a different way than everyone else, until she was around five when she started to think it was pretty neat to know a secret language. “After that point she flaunted it,” her mother remarked. Another time was how when Lucy was young, she couldn’t wait be able to drive a car and once said to her mother, “I don’t understand why they don’t let mature 12 year olds drive.” Linda closed by saying, “We will miss her, but I have all those memories inside of me that will keep my heart warm for the rest of my life.” Prof. Richard Binzel, Lucy’s academic advisor, offered his deepest condolences to Lucy’s parents at the memorial Friday. He also expressed his hope that students would remeber Lucy and that they would learn from this tradegy that there are people who care about them, professors and advisors included, and that asking for help was not a sign of weakness but one of true strength. The service ended with a slide show that was put together by her friends. The authors of this article did not know Lucy, but we know all too well that every life is unique and important, and that the loss of any life must be treated with the respect it deserves. As Prof. Binzel said, the best way to honor Lucy’s memory is to “carry a piece of Lucy’s beautiful spark” with us forever. To that end we wanted to present the following collection of remembrances and thoughts by those who know Lucy best, and those most directly effected by her loss.

“I have never made a friend so close in such a short amount of time. I felt closer to her than people I have known for years and years. I was just telling friends that she is the kind of person everyone should meet,” said David Smith.

David also said that he is especially glad for all the times he chose hanging out with Lucy over going to class. “I feel sad about all the future time and friendship that I have lost. The thing about MIT is that you never seem to have time with your friends.”

Charles then quipped the MIT mantra, “Friends, work, sleep: choose two.”

“Lucy radiated friendliness.” Charles Leiserson, Jr.

Rosa Villastrigo along with department-mate Jenni Szlosek tried to convey how tight-knit the undergrad EAPS community is due to its small size. Jenni explained how Lucy added a lot of the energy to that community spirit. “Lucy’s personality was just sparkling,” relays Jenni. By way of illustration, she goes on to describe a time when Lucy came into the undergrad lounge with a devilish grin and a pack of Oreos justly appropriated from the grad students’ surplus that day. Rosa recalls many experiences with Lucy since they began working together sophomore year. They spent a summer together doing research in an observatory. She recalls one night in particular when Lucy did a doughnut and “coolata” run for the two of them, and then they were up the rest of the night running around the observatory with a sugar-caffeine high.

Rosa describes how she and Lucy were two of the four students in a class this semester and how returning to that class has been extremely difficult with Lucy’s seat now empty. “I also have Rick as an advisor. It is really hard on him, but he knows it is really hard on us, too. He invited me to his home for Thanksgiving dinner and he said I could just come and hang out with him and his family any time. He called me almost every other day. You hear about depression and normally there are warning signs, but with Lucy, there was none of that. I saw her the last Thursday and she seemed fine. The faculty were also very taken by surprise, but they were very responsive.”

Jacquelyn Baskin said that “She was just a really great friend, always there for me. When a friend of mine passed away sophomore year, she stayed up until six in the morning talking to me. She was a very passionate person who felt really strongly about a lot of things.”

Ali Thomsen agreed stating that “Her contagious smile and contagious laugh. Her facial expressions, too. She was just so funny. She put 100% into everything she did.”

Becky Jewett remembered that “Lucy had the best smile- whether she was laughing at you or with you, she always had an impish grin that made it all good. Even when she wrote e-mail and letters, she ended everything with “*grin*”- and whenever I think of her, for the rest of my life, I’m going to grin.”

Christine Thai said that “She was cheerful and seemed very happy. She made you feel good even if you were having a bad day. She just lit up everything around her.”

Dean Robert Randolph when asked his feelings on the death of Lucy replied “Words always seem so trite, but then words are all we have. When we lose a student, we are all diminished. That’s really the reality. And it is made more difficult in this case, because by all accounts she had such exceptional qualities. The bottom line is that when we lose anyone, they are of a singular and irreplaceable value. It is unacceptable to have such an outcome, the loss of a Lucy. And the difficulty is, how do you live with the unacceptable? And yet you have to, so we are always asking: what could we do differently…”

The following remarks were given by Professor Richard P. Binzel at Lucy da Silva’s memorial service:

As I look upon this gathering of support for Lucy, for her family, and for her friends, it is plain to see that if Lucy could have realized all of the support she had, she would still be among us today. There is a lesson here for all of us — that lesson is that we all touch more people’s lives than we realize. Stop and look around you and ponder that lesson for just a moment.

As Lucy’s academic advisor, I knew Lucy for almost four years. We had a terrific relationship and Lucy had often trusted me in sharing problems that were beyond the simple bounds of academic life. I always emphasized to Lucy how honored I was to have earned her trust. We had just begun to map out a course of study for Lucy as a Master’s Degree student. Lucy’s immediate future was full of opportunities as she also had at least one standing job offer and another job offer in the works. Our last conversation, just a few days before we lost her, was one in which we both relished the opportunities she had earned. The future was bright.

I want to address a few remarks, first to Lucy’s parents. Then to all the students gathered here. And finally to my colleagues in the MIT faculty and administration.

First to Lucy’s parents, Marcelo and Linda. I am also a parent of a promising and lovely young daughter. As much as I feel a sense of loss as a teacher and a mentor, or as much of a sense of loss that any of us feel, we know that it does not compare with the tremendous loss that you feel. First and foremost we are gathered together here to offer our support and prayers for you and for Lucy.

To all of the students gathered here, I am going to reveal a few secrets.

Believe it or not, your professors and your faculty advisors do genuinely care about your progress and your well-being. I know this is hard to fathom sometimes as we pile on the reading, the problem sets, the exams, and the final projects. But it is true. Education is a human endeavor.

Believe it or not, the greatest sense of accomplishment for a faculty member is not research discoveries, research grants, or a Nobel Prize. Because education is a human endeavor, the greatest sense of accomplishment comes from seeing your students succeed. The depth of that sense of accomplishment is directly tied to the depth of the personal relationship with the student.

Believe it or not, the students that we faculty take the most pride in are not necessarily the few among you who have the exceptional ability to seemingly breeze through MIT. I can tell you that the students I admire most are the ones who bounce back from their struggles and set themselves on a course for future success. Lucy had her academic struggles, but the way she bounced back (like her favorite character Tigger!) in the last year made her one of the students that I was most proud of during my twelve years at MIT. I was looking forward to sharing that thought with Lucy and her parents on graduation day.

On behalf of my Department Head Ron Prinn, I want to thank our faculty members for the amazing support shown to Lucy’s classmates. On that sad Monday I was quite impressed at how many of Lucy’s friends had come to their faculty contacts to seek consolation. This is a tribute to both you and your students for forging such open and caring relationships. Yours is an example for us all to follow.

A tragedy such as this leads all of us, especially the Institute administration to ask questions such as: How could have we done better? How could we have reached out more? There is an incalculable balance between oversight and independence that all colleges and universities seek to reach. If there is a universal answer to finding that balance point, I am sure it will be discovered here first.

I don’t have an answer for finding that balance, but let me close with a very small idea. As another favorite character of Lucy’s (Pooh) might say: “It’s not a very good idea, I suppose.” We must do more to help our students realize that there are three very small words that are a sign of strength. In today’s culture these three words are most commonly viewed as a sign of weakness. Let us resolve to begin to change the culture so that three simple words are recognized as a sign of strength. These three words of strength are:

I Need Help

Like all MIT faculty, I am prone to inventions. And I have invention that I would like to share. Perhaps it is an invention that can be replicated and distributed to all students. Perhaps it is an invention that we can make sure is always available to students, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

I call the invention, “The Lucy Flag.” It says “I Need Help.” Perhaps there are times when members of our community are not quite strong enough to say these three words out loud. But perhaps they are strong enough to put their fingers together and raise this flag. If the gathering here is any indication, we know that had Lucy raised this flag or placed it on her door on that Sunday evening, the reaction of support for her would have been truly incredible.

Finally, let me again direct my remarks to the students. Please join together in a promise to Lucy’s parents. Lucy’s life has ended, but yours will go on. To be sure, there will be highs and lows, as well as challenges, successes, and setbacks. It is our sincere hope that you will find an amazing richness to life as you become professionals, as you become parents, and as you become adult citizens of the world. Promise, please promise, that you will carry a piece of Lucy’s beautiful spark with you throughout your own life. Promise that for Lucy’s parents. Remember the sense of joy and fun that Lucy brought to us all.

Richard P. Binzel
Professor of Planetary Science and MacVicar Faculty Fellow


The Thistle Volume 13, Number 3: Dec., 2000/Jan., 2001.