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Determined, genuine and kind: The legacy of Lauren

The University of Utah campus joins together to mourn the loss of student Lauren McCluskey.

In August of this year, University of Utah Athletics gave T-shirts to all student-athletes with the words “Leave a Legacy” printed on them. The meaning at the time was to encourage the athletes to compete their hardest, perform their best in the classroom and give back to the community.

This week, those words have a new meaning. On Monday, Oct. 22, 2018, Lauren McCluskey, a 21-year-old U student and member of the track and field team, was killed in a senseless act of violence on campus. At the vigil in her honor held two days later, student-athletes wore their legacy T-shirts and Athletic Director Mark Harlan encouraged the entire U community to “Leave a Legacy” in honor of Lauren.

A senior from Pullman, Washington, Lauren was studying communication and planned to graduate in May. She was a bright student, maintaining a 3.77 GPA. Her track and field coach, Kyle Kepler, said her name regularly appeared on the top 10 board for GPAs in his office each semester. Once her name went up, he never had to take it down.

Kepler recruited Lauren to join the U’s track and field team for good reason. She was 2015 Washington state champion in the high jump and the Pullman High record holder in the 100-meter hurdles. At the U she ranked 10th all-time for the pentathlon and continually beat her own records. “She had a relentless determination at practice,” Kepler said at the vigil. “And, she cared about everybody.”

U President Ruth V. Watkins described Lauren as “diligent, kind and successful—the kind of student you knew would go far.” To illustrate the type of person she was, “Lauren used the little available time she had to serve a summer internship at Courtland Place retirement community in Spokane Valley,” added Watkins, who canceled classes on Tuesday, Oct. 23, out of respect for Lauren and had the flags at the university flown at half-staff. The president awarded Lauren her degree posthumously and presented it to her parents on Thursday.

Countless students, friends, classmates and team members have also talked about how genuine and caring Lauren was to everyone around her.

In one comment on the U’s condolences webpage, student Anne McEwan shared how Lauren went out of her way to befriend her in a public speaking class. “I was really shy . . . but Lauren didn’t give up on being my friend,” she wrote. “She was super thoughtful that way.” McEwan added that Lauren was brave and incorporated singing and comedy into their speaking assignments. “She helped me be confident in so many ways that I’m sure she never even knew.”

Jonah Schupbach, one of Lauren’s former professors, recalled that she stands out in his memory as disciplined, attentive and smart but, even more so, as kind. “My clearest memories of Lauren were of her actively reaching out to other students in the class,” he wrote. “She seemed especially open to helping and befriending others—regardless of apparent social status or considerations of who might benefit more academically from the relationship.”

Representing the student-athletes on campus, Utah gymnast Shannon McNatt also spoke during the vigil, encouraging everyone to not just remember Lauren, but to do something “in remembrance of Lauren.”

“I encourage you all to commit to Lauren and her family that we will each endeavor to take a positive action on her behalf,” she said, giving examples such as striving to be a better role model in the community, going the extra mile to help someone in need, making a public commitment and standing behind it with your actions or just being there for someone.

“Lauren’s legacy is embodied in each and every one of us,” said McNatt.

A second vigil, organized by It’s On Us Utah, took place Friday evening. The national non-profit group, started by former Vice President Joseph Biden and led by students, works to raise awareness and provide resources to address sexual, domestic, dating and interpersonal violence on college campuses. The gathering was originally scheduled as part of dating and domestic violence awareness month, but instead focused on honoring Lauren.

Several women who identified themselves as friends or former roommates of Lauren spoke. They described Lauren as caring, kind and funny. She loved nail polish, karaoke, dancing, merlot, Kanye West—whom she refused to believe was anything but a music genius—and Target. The remembrances brought both laughter and tears.

President Watkins, who also attended the second vigil, is mindful of the widespread shock and heartache that comes as a result of a tragedy like this and encourages anyone struggling to seek counseling and comfort from loved ones. As a reminder, there are a number of campus resources available to support students, staff and faculty, with both group and individual counseling services.

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Remembering Lauren McCluskey
Hundreds walk to Presidents Circle and attend a candlelight vigil for shooting victim Lauren McCluskey at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Oct. 24, 2018, and to honor Lauren, the flags of the University of Utah were flown at half-staff. Copyright: The University of Utah