As the inaugural recipient of the Christopher Michaels-Martinez Memorial Scholarship, my experience of the events of May 23, 2014, is mostly secondhand.
Campus administration created six scholarships last year, each intended to memorialize the six victims of the May 2014 tragedy. In honor of Chris, the English department instituted a scholarship for students hoping to promote social justice through writing, just as Chris had hoped to do.
I applied for the scholarship in Winter 2016. At the time I had hoped — as I still hope — to make a career out of writing, so I thought the scholarship fitting for me. I learned months later in an email from the Department of English that I had won the scholarship and was awarded $2,000 toward my Spring Quarter.
Despite the hope that the award had catapulted for me, in the months to follow I became deeply emerged in the pain and trauma surrounding Chris’s death.
I first realized this during a photoshoot with other memorial scholarship recipients. A campus media representative had asked for us to meet him at Campus Point one afternoon in early May 2016. While the representative was running late, the rest of the recipients and I used the time to chat.
We each knew why we were there, so we could find nothing else to talk about except the memory of the six students. One of the recipients was a friend of Veronika Weiss, and he began to share his memories of Veronika with the winner of her memorial scholarship.
I realized that I did not know Chris or any of these victims personally, as this other scholarship recipient had. I was in high school when the tragedy happened. I did not lose a friend or a classmate or even a somewhat recognizable acquaintance. Chris was just a stranger to me, and here I was expected to carry on his legacy.
The weight of it all grew heavier upon me when I met Chris’s parents. Richard Martinez had made an impromptu appearance as I was giving a research presentation at South Hall. Words cannot explain the hope in Richard’s eyes when he first looked upon me; I was the one who would perpetuate the future that Chris was not able to live. He even said I looked like Chris.
Richard gave me a handful of gifts that he felt I should have. He gave me two books: one about argumentation and one about world-changing ideas. Inside the latter, he had written a note saying how he had given the book to Chris for Christmas.
“He never got a chance to read it so I’m passing it on to you,” the inscription reads.
I met the rest of Chris’s family at a memorial service held in Storke Plaza exactly a year ago. There the chancellor announced my reception of the award, and the family members talked with me for almost an hour afterward. Chris’s mother said she was glad to meet me, and Richard was happy to see me again, too.
Chris, I’m deeply sorry for the loss your family — and this world — has felt from your death. I’ve seen their pain, and I can tell you that it cuts deep.
I am honored to have received this scholarship in your memory. You had such high aspirations in front of you and a supportive family behind you. I never had the pleasure of meeting you, but you have left an impression on my own life. I hope to do the same for others.