It feels like a spectacle to be writing this, as if any form of public mourning is automatically categorized as a sensational and melodramatic proclamation of sorrow that the world is better off without, but I don’t know what else to do. Grief has remained a relatively foreign concept to me up until now — I’ve been fortunate enough to watch life pass by without a grave to visit. The only death in my family I can remember is my grandfather’s, which was softened extensively by a language barrier and the 8,161 miles that separate San Marino from Ho Chi Minh City, and now the only thing on my mind is the smile you see above.
Kirk Wu was a San Marino High School alumnus who made it through to his second year at Columbia before hanging himself. His death has made headlines for the New York Post and underscores the “suicide wave” that has plagued the Ivy League college. As the news was announced last Friday during first period at San Marino, teachers had to be excused from their own classrooms as they grappled with the traumatic news, and Facebook began to overflow with anecdotes shared by his friends.
I’m left with a thin connection to Kirk though; we didn’t even know each other until the later half of my freshman year when Dancetra, the schoolwide dance show, brought us together. The laughter and joy he exuded seemed like nothing special at the time; he always had a smile on his face as we sweated two hours away every Monday and Wednesday trying to learn a hip-hop routine neither of us were really good at.
But looking back on it now, I realize that Kirk was the first person who made me feel accepted at the high school. Despite being a complete stranger, he would compliment me on my dancing like an endearing big brother, but those last two months of the 2016-2017 school year feel like nothing compared to the lifelong friendships captured through his timeline.
Do I even deserve to grieve over a death so distant?
The only valid explanation I can give for my melancholy is the possibility that Kirk could’ve been anyone I know. Mental health issues are not exclusive to any race or gender; they surpass the boundaries defined by a student’s academic merit and socioeconomic status, and it’s a tragedy that Kirk became a statistic to that terrifying fact.
We can never truly know the battles people are fighting behind their smiles. I can only hope that when someone with a smile like Kirk’s comes around, I can voice my gratitude before it’s too late.