Every Hoo Has a Story: Dealing With Tragedy

May 15, 2023 By Mike Mather, mike.mather@virginia.edu Mike Mather, mike.mather@virginia.edu

Will Keen eased into the director’s chair for an impromptu interview on the Lawn last month. He was one of several fourth-year students UVA Today randomly coaxed into a conversation about their time at the University of Virginia.

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A few students had to think long and hard about this question: What was your toughest time here?

But Keen didn’t. His answer, unfortunately, came easily.

“Well, the first thing that comes to mind is the events of Nov. 13 this past year,” he said. “Actually, D’Sean Perry was my first new friend that I had met here at UVA. So he’s very close to me. That was certainly one of the probably toughest times of my life.”

Perry, along with Devin Chandler and Lavel Davis Jr., were UVA football players. On Nov. 13, they were on a bus returning to Grounds from a class field trip. Another student on the bus pulled out a gun, killed all three and wounded two others. It was a shocking tragedy that upended the UVA community. Months later, the event still feels raw and painful.

Four years earlier, Keen was a first-year student when he slipped through a classroom door for the first time. He was an out-of-state student, so he didn’t arrive at the University of Virginia with a built-in friend group.

He sat next to a guy and the two struck up a conversation. It turns out, both were from Florida, so they had something in common. That first chat led to years of friendship. Keen said that with Perry, “you just can’t help but become best friends.”

Although Keen went on to be a government and history major, he and Perry spent a lot of time talking about art. Perry’s major was studio art, but they also discussed music and different types of visual art. The Floridians also bonded over the shock of Charlottesville’s first cold snap when the temperature first plummeted to 50 degrees. They went on hikes, explored the city and hung out in the dorms, Keen said.

“It was just a very strong friendship,” Keen said. “I think we both just clicked.”

From the dark days after the shooting to the numerous memorials honoring the players after, it was clear Perry was a good friend to many. And that means many, including Keen, are getting ready to graduate with a sense in their guts that all of this is so unfair. Perry should be with them. So should Davis and Chandler.

When Keen pulls on his gown and adjusts his cap this weekend, he’ll have his first friend on his mind.

“I think ultimately, the best I can do, and the best we all can do, is to walk in honor for him and really just keep his spirit in us,” Keen said, “so that we can share it with all those around us in the future and carry the light that he had and that he shared with us at UVA.”

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Mike Mather

Managing Editor University Communications