Death of a Student

A parent called the office last week to report that their son had died and that he was a student at our school and in our department. Uff - how does one react to such a news? They wanted us to find a student for which they only knew the first name. Their son had often talked about this person.

I muffed the major task: getting the telephone number of the parents. But our administration is actually up to such a task - two parties, researching independently and using only the data they had at hand, were able to locate the student in question, even though the first name is quite common. And they unearthed the parent's telephone number.

I contacted the student and we spoke on the phone for a while. But now what? I didn't think that we needed to inform people, but the more we are talking about it, the more need to know: the semester group; the professors; the department chair; the vice president for students.

Googling around I found that many universities in English-speaking countries have online, detailed instructions for what to do in such a situation. Really detailed - down to who writes a condolence letter and who sends flowers. And I found an interesting point: check if a posthumous degree is to be awarded.

It seems that this is a common case - if a student is almost finished with their degree, a posthumous degree can be issued as a small comfort to the family. I really like the idea as a symbol of our involvement in the lives of our students. And they did earn almost all of the credits necessary.

I'm discussing this with people and getting our legal department to look into it. I suppose it is also a bit of actionism, as how do you respond to a death that appears to be a suicide, so shortly before finishing a degree?

Personally, we included him in our intercession prayers at church on Sunday. But I feel that the university needs to acknowledge that we are a community.

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
-- John Donne (1572 – 1631)

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