She was never content with being in one place for too long, so inevitably I’d have to deal with her disappearing for semesters at a time, or to Bosnia or France. But come June, within a day of her plane landing I’d be with her again. We took plenty of trips together, and many of my fondest memories are of those times. But it didn’t have to be anything extravagant. More often than not we’d end up in some bar, or in her living room, just talking all night. Laughing, drinking, playing pool. But mostly talking.
I don’t know how I got so lucky. I was born into a wonderful, loving family that helped shape me into the person I am today. I have close friends that have been with me through my ups and downs, and who I know I will always be able to count on. But Alden was different. She was my family, my friend, my confidant. Nobody knows me the way she did. Of all the millions of people in this city, I got to be her friend. And for that I’ll always be grateful.
Eventually we gave up on the skateboard approach and carried it the rest of the way. It didn’t matter that it was too heavy and awkward to carry, or that the path of the water was rife with thorny bushes; we did it anyway. And so we paddled out onto the lake and shared a bottle of wine or two, nursing our bruises and scratches and enjoying our own personal sunset.
I am so unbelievably fortunate to have grown up with Alden. To have spent so many evenings stuck out on the water on a tiny sailboat with no wind, laughing about our lives. And life couldn’t have been better. I don’t know that I’ll ever get over the pain of losing her, but I will always remember the happiness she brought me.
I wanted to express my deepest condolences for your loss and to say that it was a privilege to know and work with Alden this summer. I will always remember Alden for the infectious enthusiasm she had for both her work and life. She had a clear love for science, was always eager to learn, and was a natural talent. She contributed a lot, and I owe much of my recent progress to her. She also blessed the lab with her constant smile, radiant energy and positivity. Alden was genuinely kind to everyone and was always a pleasure to work with.
The other card has been signed by those who knew Alden during her time in the lab. Even though she interacted with some only briefly, it is clear that she left a positive impression on all.
In addition to being a mentee, Alden also became a friend.
Finally I would like you to know that Alden left her mark on science. She is a highly ranked author on one of my recently submitted manuscripts, which I sent to her by email. She was able to read it while in Mozambique, and I know she was proud of her accomplishments.
May Alden rest in peace, and may her family and friends find comfort in the wonderful memories she leaves with each of us.
I speak today as a father, and so cannot have a very accurate or comprehensive view of Alden’s life. I’m sure I’ve been shielded from a number of different things that Alden and others decided I shouldn’t hear about, probably including a police report or two. But there are a few stories I know that are worth telling.
Alden, from the moment she was born, lived her life out loud, in the best sense of the word. She was impatient from the very start, hurling herself out of her mother’s belly less than an hour after we arrived at the hospital in San Francisco on February 21, 1988. I suppose there were times as a child when she was shy, but those have long since been overshadowed by all the exuberant, outgoing, offbeat, daring, impetuous, stylish and funny things she initiated as a teenager and young adult. She was just out there in life, determined to live it to the fullest.
She was rarely deterred by setbacks, or experiences that others would find frustrating or annoying. Indeed, she would recast those experiences as humorous adventures, and weave a great story about them. On her first day of teaching English in a French high school in Montpellier the year after graduating from college, her bus had to turn back because the French were on strike and had barricaded the school entrance with burning tires. It was incredibly disappointing for her, in part because she had chosen just the perfect outfit to look like a French school teacher. But she wrote a two page letter about the experience that had us in stitches.
If her family ever had any doubts about her expressiveness, or her determination to live her life out loud, they were erased when she strode to the karaoke microphone at age 16 in Edisto, South Carolina, where the Landis/Hopson families were vacationing one summer. Largely to a group of perfect strangers, she belted out the theme song of the movie Titanic – very loud, rather off key, but passionate. That was vintage Alden – never fearing to try something, and to do it with gusto, whether or not she had any particular talent for it.
Of course there were plenty of things in which she was extremely talented. Naturally, for me, athletics was at the top of the list. She was a feisty soccer player who co-captained her University Prep team to the state championship. She played varsity tennis as well, and her form in every stroke was something to marvel at, even if her impatience sometimes got the better of her in matches. On her premier softball team she was a treasured teammate who was a formidable hitter for her size. For years I had a photo of her on our refrigerator showing her taking a picture perfect swing during one of her games. One day she asked that I take it down. “Why?” I asked. “Because, Dad, look at the way the catcher is squeezing her mitt. I missed the ball!”
Not only was she modest about her sports accomplishments, she took delight in telling embarrassing stories about herself. Once she was playing third base, and started to daydream. Then she heard the crack of the bat, saw the ball head for center field, and instinctively started running home – not because that was what a fielder should do, but because in her daze she thought she was a base-runner. She made an elegant slide into home plate, and then looked at the glove on her left hand and thought, what am I doing with that on? She regaled many friends with that story over the years.
A year and a half later, I had signed up to do the Marine Corps marathon in Washington DC. Ann was registered for the half marathon, but when she had to drop out due to a foot injury a couple months before the race, Alden volunteered to take her place for the 13 mile portion, even though her maximum runs at the time were only around eight miles. We ran together through the streets of Washington DC, and she chatted the whole way as if she were sitting in a Parisian café. After a while, I could barely speak, so I asked her just to talk on her own about her courses at BU, the books she was reading, and the guys she was hanging out with – which she did the whole way, nonstop.
When we got to the halfway point at the Lincoln Memorial, and I told her where to go to meet the family members cheering for us, she asked, “Dad, would you mind if I ran the whole marathon with you?” And she did – though she ended up running farther than 26 miles. When I would stop at rest stations in the last 5 miles to stretch and drink, she would keep running, saying “I can’t stop, Dad, I have to keep going.” But she would loop back to rejoin me several times, making her race course about 3 miles longer than a regular marathon, in order to keep me going.
That was Alden – she was determined to keep going, always, no matter the obstacles in her way. And she was determined not to leave others behind.
That determination led her to devote time to helping others, whether it was with Habitat for Humanity doing restoration work in New Orleans, or as a camp counselor in Sarajevo for children affected by the Bosnian war, or ultimately as a chemistry teacher in the Peace Corps in Mozambique. She had an enormous heart, in both senses of the word – compassion and care for others, and the drive and stamina to accomplish things, to make things better.
Most important to her were her family and friends. A truer friend you could not find – as her many friends who are here today, and many more elsewhere, can testify. And as a daughter, sister, niece, cousin, and grandchild, she was more than one could ask for. She understood not only the importance of family, but the need to overcome rifts in the family fabric that occasionally arise. [Okay more than just occasionally…] And so she would rally family members to put aside their differences, look at the bigger picture, and get back together. Sometimes she even performed that essential function for families other than her own.
We are not here to say goodbye to Alden, because she will live within us forever, urging us to live our lives with purpose. Here is what she is saying to us now: life can be short – make the most of it. Don’t get sidetracked by petty things. Understand the ties that bind families and friends, and nurture them. Find the humor in everything, and be sure to laugh at yourself. Look ahead, throw yourself into everything you do, encourage others, try things you’ve never done before, and never quit. Go as far and as fast as you can, but always loop back to help those along the way who need you.
Each summer Alden and I would go camping with my Godparents, Jimbo and Charlotte- we had so much fun canoeing, eating smores, and making up dances to perform. Even being in the total wilderness didn’t stop us from being a little rebellious. On our long canoe rides we would go to the launch dock and take my godparent’s car for a little joy ride around the camp site, mind you we were 14. Again, my apologies to my godparents.
After middle school I decided to go back to public school and Alden stayed at UPrep. What amazed me the most about our friendship was that even though we did not see each other every day we remained just as close as ever. We would call each other periodically and talk for hours, even though neither of us are phone people, at all. One time, senior year, she called me and as it turns out both of us got into some legal trouble the weekend before and her response was, “wow, we are just so in tune.” I started laughing because she thought it was great we were both still making bad decisions.
I am so grateful for this past summer because I got to spend a lot of time with Alden. We had big plans for when she got home from the Peace Corp. While she was serving in Africa, I was supposed to get dual citizenship in London and then we were both going to move to Europe and “figure things out.” Whenever we would talk about this plan I would ask things like, “well how are we going to get jobs or how are you going to live there legally this time?” and she just kept telling me “i don’t know, we will figure it out!” Perfect, sign me up!
Alden was my best friend in every way. It breaks my heart that we are all here today, having to do this. But I can’t help but think about how much better off we all are forever knowing her; I feel bad for the people that never got to meet her. She was such a breath of fresh air, so full of life and excitement. All that I ask is we all make the most of the days we are given, and live life to the fullest because Alden would want nothing less. Now to Baldy- Not a day will go by that I don’t think of you and bring you with me. I promise to keep getting in trouble and keep learning the hard way. I promise to plan less and do more and not freak out when everything fails but rather laugh it off. I love you so much and I will meet you on the streets of London, living your European dream.