An intimate crowd came together Sunday to mourn the loss of University of Virginia student Hannah Elizabeth Graham at a temporary memorial dedicated to her life and her impact on the U.Va. community.
Graham, a second-year student in U.Va.’s College of Arts & Sciences, disappeared in the early morning hours of Sept. 13. Weeks of searching by police and volunteers from around Virginia and beyond came to a close Oct. 18 when human remains were found in Albemarle County. On Friday, the state medical examiner’s office confirmed that the remains indeed belonged to Graham.
An Albemarle County man has been charged in her abduction, and authorities are mulling additional charges.
While the story has drawn national media attention, Friday’s grim announcement allowed the University community to once again focus on Graham’s life and impact. Student Council President Jalen Ross sent a note to fellow students announcing the construction of a memorial, open to both students and the community, which will serve as a place of reflection on Graham’s life. It is located adjacent to the “Whispering Wall” near Monroe and Newcomb halls.
Second-Year Council President Abraham Axler joined Ross at Sunday’s unveiling of the memorial. Also attending were Associate Dean of Students J. Marshall Pattie, Associate Dean of Students F. Aaron Laushway and Interim Director of Student Activities Emily Miles.
The memorial includes a chalkboard wall where students can write notes reflecting on the life of Graham. As a tribute to Graham’s love of skiing, her teammates from the Virginia Alpine Ski and Snowboarding Team donated a chair constructed of skis, which sits atop the fountain as the memorial’s centerpiece.
“I look forward to building a memorial as beautiful as this school, city, state and nation have been in supporting one another through times as trying as these,” Ross said.
Despite the circumstances, Ross shared with students reasons to be grateful, noting that the memorial would be a place to mourn and be thankful for Graham’s life at the University.
“But we are also thankful – for the closure today's news brings, for the grace with which we've seen Hannah's family and friends handle this tragedy, for the tireless work of the police, our administration, and thousands of volunteers, for the clarity to enter the next stage of grief and healing – and for the chance to do so amid the full breadth of the Virginia family on this Homecomings weekend,” Ross said in a message to students on Friday.
The colorful chair was draped in flowers, reminding students that the somber events surrounding Graham’s death were brightened by the memory of life and enthusiasm she brought to many.
Axler chalked one of Graham’s beloved quotes on the chalkboard wall, “Happiness is in the heart, not in the circumstances.”
Graham’s parents were expected to visit the memorial later Sunday.
U.Va. President Teresa Sullivan shared her condolences with the Graham family in a message distributed late Friday afternoon to the University community. “This is a sorrowful day in the life of the University, and our entire community is grieving with the Graham family. We offer our sincere condolences for their loss, and we will continue to hold them in our thoughts and prayers in the days ahead,” she said.
Ross added, “I hope that during the next week, [students will] take a moment to visit the Whispering Wall, reflect on Hannah and our community, and leave flowers, mementos, or simply a note on the chalk walls,” Ross said.
During the silent moments of remembrance Sunday, students shared their notes. “RIP sweet girl. We miss you,” wrote one student.
Ross joined the students, writing a note of his own to Graham. “Hannah, you have and continue to make this a better place, closer family and stronger people. We miss you, but you’re not gone.”
The memorial is one of many ways that students have shared in their grief together over the weeks. On Sept. 19, six days after her disappearance, a candlelight vigil drew thousands of students. Later, “Hugs for Hannah” brought together students to reflect on the situation and thank volunteers for their efforts.