Following the death of Peiran “Joyce” Shi ’19, Cornellians huddled together in a semicircle in the middle of campus as they shared their memories and reflected on Shi’s legacy as they look forward.
Japan United-States Association — an organization Shi was an active member of — held the vigil Wednesday afternoon in remembrance of Shi, offering Cornellians an open space to speak freely as they grapple the loss of a community member.
Togo Tamura ’19, president of JUSA and one of the organizers of the vigil, gave opening remarks, speaking to the commitment Shi brought to the organization and the legacy she left behind.
“She was the epitome of diversity and inclusion,” Tamura said. “I know that what I can do now is keep smiling like how she was smiling and continue accepting others and continuing opening my perspective toward other perspectives. And embody the diversity and inclusion that she was a model of.”
Shi was known by many Cornellians for her dedication and passion to a variety of different disciplines. Eric Shen ’20 recalled seeing Shi in the mornings before their physics class, always working on a different subject.
Though he admitted that this dedication originally intimidated him, as he grew to know her better, he said he then “realized that how colorful she was and how intense she was going after everything she could and trying to do everything.”
Her diverse academic passions made Shi truly embody the fundamental goal of Cornell’s liberal arts college for Shen.
“As a fellow member of Arts and Sciences, when I thought of what our college tries to stand for, she was really every part of it,” Shen said. “She had a bit of art, she had a bit of science, she was diverse, she was inclusive.”
Alex Hutchins ’19 described the way Shi carried these passions outside the classroom as a way of forming connections with her community.
Shi’s interest in Japanese culture led her to JUSA and her friendship with Hutchins, who recalled that when they spoke, she “would always say some random fact she had learned about Japan to me,” he said.
Hutchins admitted that he is now “at a loss,” realizing just how unique these interactions were.
He described that talking with Shi was talking to someone who “as soon as they meet you, walk up to you and start engaging with you and there’s no social barrier there that prevents someone from talking about something they’re passionate about,” he said.
“I think that was what was really great about her,” Hutchins added. “She quickly engaged with you about something in which you shared a connection.”
For some students at the vigil, the sudden loss provided a valuable lesson moving forward in their relationships.
“It really brought to perspective how you should treasure each and every person in your life because you could lose them at any moment,” said Julie Chen ’18. “Joyce has inspired me to keep an open mind to the cultures around us no matter our differences. And to smile and never frown, just like she always did, even when you run into obstacles.”
At 5:30 p.m., students shared a moment of silence with the bells of the clocktower tolling in the background, reflecting on what their classmates had just shared.
In planning the event, the organizers originally hoped to allow the community to light candles for the vigil. Because the wind prevented this, students instead arranged the candles in a heart for Shi around the insignia of the plaza with flowers in the center of the heart. For the moment of silence, students formed a circle around Shi’s heart.
While the wind whipped across Ho Plaza, the students gathered under the bright sun in the late afternoon. The stark change in weather from the rain just a couple weeks before stood out to Shen and reminded him of Shi as he returned to campus this week.
“The one thing that I did realize after I did come back was: when we left for spring break, it was dark, cold, rainy, gloomy,” Shen said. “But when we came back, I was surprised because it was literally spring. It was warm. There was color in Ithaca. And the weather was perfect. And it hit me once I thought about that, that maybe this was her last present: to leave us with all of her colors.”