The Washington College community is mourning the death of one of its bright lights: an intelligent and compassionate young man with a very promising future. We are all struggling to deal with this terrible loss.
As a mother, I cannot imagine the indescribable grief Jacob Marberger’s parents must be going through; my heart aches for them. As your College president, I want to embrace every single one of you and let you know that we share the pain of this tragedy. I promise you that we will get through this together, and I urge you to reach out to someone if you ever feel yourself edging toward despair. Here especially, within the Washington College family, there are people who love you, care for you, and want to help you deal with problems that may seem insurmountable when you face them alone.
I know that many of you were anxious to return to campus to be with your friends and classmates as you grieve. I know you will support one another and take comfort in fond memories of your friend and classmate. Take the time to celebrate what Jacob accomplished in his lifetime. Honor his memory by studying hard, by stepping into a leadership role, by broadening your horizons. Most of all, be kind to one another—today and in the tough days to come.
You may be feeling remorse and guilt. You might be recalling encounters with Jacob where you question yourself—if I had been more kind, if I had reached out to him, could I have made a difference? Or you may be feeling anger towards other students in the belief that they could have been more understanding and supportive of Jacob. I did not know Jacob, but attending the celebration of his life last week in Philadelphia, I heard many testimonials from his friends, teachers, and loved ones. I believe he was a young man who embraced fairness, truth, and understanding. He would not want us to honor his memory with anger, guilt, or recriminations. He would want us to heal. He would want us to move forward.
At Washington College, we take pride in our strong sense of family and community. In the wake of this tragedy, to truly honor Jacob, we need to learn and grow. That is why I have decided to convene a Task Force comprised of administration, faculty, students, alumni, and outside experts to evaluate the adequacy of our policies in protecting our culture of mutual respect, trust, and support and the feeling of safety for all of our students. And I would like the work of this task force to include a review of the impact of social media and anonymous messages on our culture. I hope this task force might also serve to initiate greater review of these issues on campuses across the country.
Over the next few weeks, we will announce the members of this task force and a timetable for their work and completion of their recommendations. If you have suggestion for their review, or recommendations you want them to consider, you can send them to this email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. All messages will be confidential.
We will become a better, stronger campus as a result of this tragedy. Life is full of setbacks and heartbreaks. What matters is what we make of them—whether we let ourselves turn inward in self-defeating anger and remorse, or whether we look outward to find meaning and purpose.
Remember that we will go through this together and you are not alone. As we struggle to move forward in the wake of this tragedy, cherish the people around you. Be kind to them and take solace in the strength of this remarkable community.
I have been privileged to see the outpouring of support and compassion for Jacob and his family, for our students, and for those staff members who worked so diligently to keep the College on an even keel throughout this difficult situation. My heartfelt thanks go out to all of you.
Sheila C. Bair