Amherst Magazine

Alice Swanson '07: In Memoriam

Alice Swanson
 
Amherst mourns the loss of Alice R. Swanson ’07, who died on July 8, 2008, as a result of injuries sustained when she was struck while riding her bicycle to work in Washington, D.C.

Alice majored in history at Amherst, and had recently completed an internship program at the Middle East Institute, a D.C.-based think tank.  She worked for the International Research and Exchanges Board, a non-profit organization that promotes international education. 

A memorial service will be held on Saturday, July 19, in Alice’s hometown - Northborough, Massachusetts. The service will be held at 11 a.m. at the First Parish Church Unitarian Universalist and cemetery. The address is 40 Church St., Northborough, Massachusetts, 01532; all are welcome to attend. Northborough is just over an hour from Amherst.  

The College has offered dorm accommodations for anyone who wishes to attend the services. Please contact Brent Alderman Sterste '00 at alumni@amherst.edu if you would like to stay on campus.

 
We invite remembrances and notes to be left on this site (please log in first).

Goodbye.

Submitted by Lindsay C. Totty

We lost a person who was beautiful in every way. You'll be dearly missed.

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Letter from Lissa Minkel '07

Dear Friends,  

I’m writing to inform you of the tragic loss of Alice Swanson ’07, who was killed Tuesday morning in a traffic accident while biking to work. Alice was my freshman year roommate and my closest friend at Amherst, so the College asked me to write this letter. I am caught between shock and deep, deep grief, feeling her loss with too much intensity to do justice to any eulogy. But for those of you who weren’t lucky enough to know my beautiful friend, here’s a little bit about her. 

There are the facts you’ll read in the newspaper and on Amherst’s memorial website. Alice was a history major; she spoke Arabic and Spanish and secretly loved math. She studied abroad for a year in Egypt and Nicaragua, returning to Nicaragua the summer after graduation with the support of a Fellowship for Action. At Amherst, she was vitally involved with many campus activist groups, including the Amherst Democrats, the Progressive Student Alliance, and the Divest Sudan Campaign. She worked tirelessly to enact change, bringing progressive speakers to campus, organizing protests, and traveling across the country - and the world - to do good. In Washington, D.C., she was working for the International Research and Exchanges Board, a nonprofit organization that brings international teachers to the U.S. and sends American teachers abroad.

But there was so much more to Alice than a resume. She lived in Humphries House - the Zu - for four semesters and, as a vegan, she cooked there even longer. You’d be hard-pressed to find a former Zu resident who doesn’t think of her as the heart of our little community. She was the kindest and most selfless person I’ve ever known, with a do-no-harm gentleness toward all living things. Her unfailing idealism touched everyone she met and made cynicism seem silly. She was incredibly smart, with a million plans for the future - returning to Latin America, joining the Peace Corps, saving the world - a vision she could sketch without irony and make others believe in. Describing her retrospectively, Alice sounds too good to be true, but if you ever met her, you know just how tragic the truth of her accident is. A life lost at 22 is incredibly senseless; losing Alice is hard to articulate or even comprehend. She inspired and enlivened everyone around her. She carried light and love with her everywhere and shared herself and her happiness with all who had the luck and joy of meeting her.

I’ve spoken with Alice’s family and they’re deeply grateful for all the love that those who knew her have shown and continue to show. They will be holding an informal gathering this Saturday, July 12th, at the home of Alice’s aunt, Bonnie Rowan, in Washington, D.C. at 6:30 p.m. Family and friends will gather to reminisce, share stories, and meet other people who were touched by Alice in some way. All are welcome to attend. The address is 1849 California St., Northwest, Washington, D.C., 20009.

One week after the gathering, on Saturday, July 19th, there will be a formal memorial service in Alice’s hometown - Northborough, Massachusetts. It is tentatively set for 11 a.m. at the First Parish Church Unitarian Universalist and cemetery. The address is 40 Church St., Northborough, Massachusetts, 01532; all are welcome to attend. Northborough is just over an hour from Amherst, so the College has offered dorm accommodations for anyone who wishes to attend the services. Please contact Betsy Cannon Smith ’84 at alumni@amherst.edu if you would like to stay on campus. Many of Alice’s friends are planning on gathering on campus that weekend; please join us in celebrating her life.
 
Weeks, months, years from now, I know I’ll be able to write about what Alice meant to me with much more eloquence. For now, I’m just sorry - sorry for everyone who knew and loved her, for those who never had the privilege of knowing her, and for Alice, who deserved so much more than this.

Thank you,
Lissa Minkel ’07

Dear, Dear Alice

Submitted by Aparna Nancherla

As is often the case with the release of horrible events, I can't stop rereading the sames news blips in disbelief, hoping that something was written in error, that something was overlooked. I have been shifting between grief, denial, avoidance, numbness, and anger after hearing about Alice.

But then I think of Alice herself. And I realize, none of these emotions were ever present in all the time I spent and corresponded with her. She was truly a bright, little light in countless lives. You didn't need to know Alice well at all to realize what a gift she was to the world. I myself was lucky enough to be her friend through a few shared interests, and the regular correspondence of PlanWorld, but it's a testament to how glowing her presence was and is that I feel her loss so bitterly.

Even those who met her just once knew immediately they were in the presence of a lovely cherub. Alice knew what it meant to live fully. She took joy from and gave joy to all those around her. She was easily content, and always striving to make others feel good. She was effortlessly gentle with all living things, but retained a cheeky sense of humor. She was the best of all things, but also comfortingly human.

I am still having a hard time with the fact that she is not here anymore, but then I realize, all the ways she touched people and made herself a presence of hope and kindness in the world, those things cannot be taken away. Those things can still be remembered everyday, and shared as a way to remember her. I know that she would want it that way. Anybody who can make you feel bigger and better than yourself deserves fulfillment of the light she put into everyone else's lives.

Alice, thank you for teaching me what it means to live, to love, and to learn. Your smile will remain with me forever.

I miss my friend, and will love her dearly always.

A Warm Hearted- Soul and A Free Spirit

Submitted by Melissa S. Heitt
Often, after someone dies, you have a skewed representation of them-remembering only the best things about them and forgetting all the worst.  However, with Alice, this could absolutely not happen as there was nothing negative about her in the first place.  She was always full of smiles and had a wonderful joy to life that she always carried with her. She was one of the most caring and warm-hearted people I ever met.  Her warmth is so unforgettable that people who I have introduced her to in D.C. only once or twice (my dad, my boyfriend, my friends from high school) immediately recognized her and called me to see if I was okay once they saw her name and face in the news. 

I have gotten angry with plenty of friends and engaged in heated conversations with many more, but not Alice.  Even when it came to our discussions of Israel (which have gotten me in trouble with many people time and time again), Alice always remained calm and NEVER resorted to ad-hominem attacks.  It was impossible to ever really be mad at her as it was like getting angry at Bambi.  Even after she bailed on me on one occasion in D.C., I was the one who ended up feeling guilty for having even arranged something that would be so taxing on her after she was just returning from her travels. 

Living in D.C. and working in politics, I encounter many people who manipulate, who lie, who are selfish and who pretend to care about others. Alice, though, was a breath of fresh air.  Unlike the pretenders, she TRULY cared about others.  She spoke with such remarkable passion when discussing all of the problems in the world, but at the same time, with such a kind manner.  She once told me that she felt people had a problem taking her seriously because she was just so nice. 

I was truly fortunate to be allowed a second chance at friendship with Alice.  I was friends with her freshman year because of an odd turn of
events (mold in her freshman dorm) that allowed her to live right next door to me in Williston.  I remember having lots of wonderful memories with her
and her roommate involving boggle, endless political discussions (over Israel and her fondness for Dennis Kucinich), and playing with her hampster.  I remember her going down to D.C. to protest the Iraq war, living in the Zu, founding the Progressive Student Alliance (PSA), being a vegetarian.  She then went abroad to two different places junior year, leaving me to finish up at Amherst without her.  I was able to visit her at Homecoming over her senior year and again see the smile and warmth that I had so dearly missed. 

We had kept in touch intermittently, but it wasn't until she came down to D.C. that I was able to reunite with her and listen attentively to her stories about Nicaragua and other adventures she experienced.  She was very happy here in D.C. working at a non-profit with a mutual friend from Amherst.  I remember her search for a place to live and some of the odder options she was considering living in attempting to re-live the cooperative housing experience at Amherst.  I remember trying to control myself from laughing the first time I met up with her after work as she was all dressed up like a professional and not the free-spirit I was accustomed to.  She was also very conscientious as I would try to instant message her during her workday only to be told that she can't talk now because she was at work.  I would then reply to no avail, "but, I am talking to x at the same time, who is working right near you and she has the free time."  I remember her continued zest for travel that did not halt with the Nicaragua trips.  When she was over at my apartment for dinner with another Amherst friend, I told her about an upcoming trip to Japan that I was planning.  She then said, "oh, Japan- I'd like to go there.  I'd also like to go to...."  Her list was never ending as she kept adding new places.  I was always learning new things about her as well.  For instance, I had always known her as a humanities major at Amherst and I had assumed that, much like me, she never had a strong interest in the sciences or math.  However, she revealed to me a few months ago that in fact, she was a math superstar (my words, not hers, as she would never brag) competing on a high school math team.  I remember her asking me to help find her a boyfriend because I knew so many people and I remember my utter failure to do so.  I simply couldn't find anyone good enough to date Alice or as I joked "a dirty hippie" for her.   

I never regretted one single moment I spent with her whether it was here in D.C. or up at Amherst.  She was truly a remarkable individual in many ways. The loss of Alice is not merely a loss for all of us who loved and cared about her, but rather, a loss for the world, who will never get to experience her warmth, her friendship and her caring nature.  This is truly a sad time for everyone.  Alice, I will always love you and never forget you.  

On-Campus Memorial Service

Dear friends,

We are planning to have a smaller, more informal memorial gathering on campus on Saturday evening, the 19th, at 7 p.m. on Memorial Hill. Whether or not you are planning on attending the Northborough service, we invite and encourage you to join us on campus. It will be an opportunity to share stories, memories, and thoughts about Alice in any way people wish to express themselves.

We hope that you will join us in remembering our dear friend.

Thank you,
Marcella McClatchey '08
 

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