'Endless, boundless, gentle kindness': Brandeis remembers Vanessa Mark

the crowd inside sherman function center during a memorial for Vanessa MarkPhoto/Heratch Ekmekjian

Paul Weir '25 speaks to the crowd in Sherman Function Hall.

Vanessa Mark's sense of humor and creativity was outshone only by her commitment to helping others, friends recalled in a memorial service Tuesday, Dec. 6 in Sherman Function Hall.

"She was, without doubt, the funniest, wittiest, most clever person I ever had the pleasure of meeting," said Paul Weir '25, who performed in the improv group, False Advertising, with Mark. "Yet at the same time … one could never feel as loved as they felt when sharing the stage with her. Despite her talent, she cared most about making her scene partners and friends feel good."

Mark, 25, died Nov. 19 in a shuttle bus accident on South Street that left nearly 30 others injured. She was an undergraduate on leave from Brandeis at the time. Aaron Newitt '21 met Mark in 2017 when they both were first-years, and they became close friends through improv sessions with False Advertising. He was painting when he heard the tragic news. 

"It's not something I do often, but it feels right that that's what I was doing because whenever I paint or draw, or do anything artistic, I think of Vanessa," he said. "She was an incredible artist, and more than that, she was a great artistic influence."

Andie Sheinbaum '24 recalled a time when, after Mark helped her move into her residence hall, they tried to practice improv without making any jokes. They just couldn't stop cracking each other up.

"As I have been reflecting recently, I realized the problem with grieving isn't only missing Ness, it's the fact that, though Ness is beginning to be in the past tense, the feelings I have for her are squarely in the present," Sheinbaum said. "I still love her, I still admire her endless, boundless, gentle kindness. The difference between the tenses of her and my feelings is certainly a site of much pain, but also so many joys."

Associate professor of psychology Ellen Wright recalled Mark as someone who was able to overcome challenges, while also looking to help others along the way.

"She really saw those that were overlooked and invisible, and reached out to them," she said.

Brandeis President Ron Liebowitz said that Mark exemplified one of Brandeis' enduring values: to make the world a better place. 

"She gave her time and talent as a longtime and active volunteer with the Prospect Hill Community Center, which provides academic and professional development services to children and adults here in Waltham," Liebowitz said, "and what I heard most from Vanessa's friends over the past two weeks were stories about her generous spirit, her ability to cheer up friends who were down, give emotional support even before it became clear it was needed, and was a source of many laughs."

Aislinn Welch '24, accompanied by Weir on the keyboard, sang "The Last Rose of Summer" during the service, which also included a reading of Psalm 15 by dance instructor Carole Ann Baer. 

Rabbi Seth Winberg, executive director of Brandeis Hillel and senior chaplain, began the memorial by reflecting on the importance of coming together as a community. 

"The death of a student, of a young adult, is an enormous rupture in what we expect college to be," Winberg said. "The others involved in the bus accident, including the first responders, continue to be in our hearts, on our minds, and in our prayers for complete recovery of mind and body."

The memorial was the most recent in a series of campus gatherings since the accident occurred. A town hall event organized by the Student Union was held at Shapiro Campus Center Nov. 20, and Brandeis Hillel held two services and a gathering at Berlin Chapel later that day. The Center for Spiritual Life organized a gathering at Harlan Chapel on the evening of Nov. 21. A student-organized performance fundraiser for the Brandeis Emergency Fund was held Dec. 7.

 Liebowitz expressed his gratitude for Brandeis’ caring community.

"You have helped your classmates, your students, and your colleagues confront this tragedy by offering your time, your resources, and by simply being here to listen ... and you've done so with profound compassion," Liebowitz said. 

"I'm not surprised by your commitment to each other but I'm continually impressed. We want you to know that the Brandeis community is here for you," Liebowitz said. "Undoubtedly, there will be difficult moments ahead, especially for Vanessa's family and friends and for those injured in the accidents, and their loved ones as well. I wish you all peace along the way. It will take time for us to heal as a community. To know that we are here for each other offers some measure of comfort."

Winberg concluded the remembrance by reciting the El Maleh Rahamim prayer. 

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