By Lianna Pisani
Following the tragic and untimely deaths of four Laurentian undergraduate students in January, the LU community came together to honour them by holding a celebration of life memorial on Feb. 3, 2012. Members of the LU community are now working to create bursaries to honor Hillary Afelskie and Keegan Melville.
The Bachelor of Education Student Association (BEdSA) and Thorneloe University are each organizing a memorial bursary in the name of Hillary Afelskie, who was a second-year education student and had lived in the Thorneloe residence since September 2011.
“Initially we wanted to have a bursary available for undergraduate students, and in light of the accident and what happened to Hillary, we decided to create it in memory of her because she showed a lot of initiative throughout her undergraduate degree, and had an interest in pursuing teaching,” Courtney Coulombe, a fifth-year education student and the President of BEdSA, says.
The association received permission from Afelskie’s parents in order to create the bursary, and decided they would like to award the bursary to a student who shares Afelskie’s outlook.
Afelskie was involved in numerous extracurricular activities, including soccer and Relay for Life. Coulombe adds, “Her mom shared with me that she dedicated thousands of hours and helped raise over $400,000 for the Canadian Cancer Society.”
BEdSA learned about Afelskie’s passions and hope that the bursary will represent her as a student and as a young woman.
“I spoke a lot with her mom in order to create this bursary and we wanted to have characteristics that represented her,” Coulombe says. “Her mom shared with me that she was very caring and compassionate for others. She was very bubbly and she had a positive personality. She was very smart, and had a very high average… That’s something that we want the bursary to demonstrate.”
The second memorial bursary being created in Afelskie’s name is through Thorneloe University, and it is currently called the Hillary Afelskie Memorial Bursary. Rev. Dr. Robert Derrenbacker, President and Provost of Thorneloe University is at the head of this initiative.
“We have 58 students in residence, so when she died it really hit the whole community quite hard. But I have really been impressed how the Thorneloe community has rallied together and come together to cope with this tragedy– both the residency and the staff and faculty,” Derrenbacker says.
He explains that the Thorneloe memorial bursary for Afelskie is a response to this tragedy. “People wanted to do something to help, and often, folks want to do that when there’s a death. When there’s a tragic death like this, with a young person like Hillary, who was only 19 years old, people really step up to the plate. And so, we started a bursary in Hillary’s memory. To date, we’ve had about $6, 500 in donations towards the bursary.”
Derrenbacker confirms that the terms of reference for this bursary remain “up in the air” as the Senate has not met since Afelskie’s death. It is possible that the bursary will be awarded to a student in residence at Thorneloe. Other particulars will be determined in the coming months.
Thorneloe University and Derrenbacker have kept in contact with Afelskie’s parents. “Hillary’s parents have participated in the bursary, and are always supportive of it… I just felt it was right to keep them in the loop and only do this if they were comfortable with it.” This has led to members of the Afelskie family and residents of the Renfrew (Afelskie’s hometown) area participating and making donations to the bursary as well.
The bursary being created in memory of Keegan Melville is being led by Dr. Robert Hall, an Associate Professor of Music, with the department of music at LU and with the permission of Melville’s parents.
For Hall, the desire to create this bursary stems from personal experiences. “I had a brother die whenIwas18–hewas17–soIkind of know what it’s like when you’re in a family when that happens.
You want to feel like the person’s memory is living on. There’s not much you can do, so that’s the best you can hope for.”
The bursary is to be supported by donations, and it is open so that anyone is free to make a donation of any size. Furthermore, Hall hopes to put on more concerts with the department of music to raise money for the bursary, like the one taking place on March 15, 2012.
Hall first met Melville when he auditioned to be a member of the choir. Melville impressed Hall upon that first audition. “He told me how he had entered a contest on the internet– and won it– to go down to Nashville and study with Victor Wooten for a day… That was pretty impressive to start off with a student who hadn’t even started the program yet.”
Hall grew to learn more about Melville through his participating in the choir. “He sang in the choir that I direct, and he hadn’t had a lot of experience in that but he was always cheerful. When we went and performed at St. Andrew’s Church in November, we usually put together a little band to play with the choir and ask for volunteers– and he was one of the first to volunteer. He just had a very positive outlook… You don’t always get students like that.”
The criteria for determining the student who will be awarded this bursary have not yet been finalized, but it will most likely be someone who wants to study music.
President Dominic Giroux is in support of the bursaries. “I think it’s admirable that students, faculty and staff are taking initiative in creating the bursaries to honor some of the students.” He adds, “It definitely conveys again to those families… the kind of bond their son or daughter had established with other students or faculty on campus.”