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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
Lissa Minkel ’07