Candles in the darkness

A candlelight vigil originally scheduled to take place in the Student Union was moved to the Commons following the student death in the dorms Oct. 2.

“I wanted this to turn into a meaningful event for the whole campus, but especially for the students in housing,” said Barbara Markley, a counselor educator with the Division of Student Affairs.

As part of National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week, the event was planned so members of the university and Anchorage community could gather to remember loved ones who have died as a result of alcohol abuse.

“UAA is a family,” Markley said. “People’s lives get entrenched in this place. I just felt like we had to do some sort of service, some sort of memorial and make it inclusive to other people that we all have lost.”

 After the alcohol-related death of first-year student Jason Ekamrak, who committed suicide in North Hall, the event was moved to the Commons to make it more available to housing students.

USUAA vice president Michael Blanton spoke at the ceremony.

“It has reverberated through the UAA community,” Blanton said. “Staff, administration and students have all felt the loss of this individual. It was a sad day for UAA.”

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Ekamrak’s cousin, Krystal Henry, attended the candlelight vigil. Henry said she and her cousin had a close relationship and spoke every day.

“At one point he called me up and asked me to meet him outside,” Henry said. “As soon as I got out the door, he was chasing a moose down the street. I think that’s my favorite memory of him. He said he wanted to slap the moose’s butt so it’d run faster…He just made me laugh a lot.”

Several events have been held to help students deal with the loss of their friend and classmate. Henry said the Oct. 20 candlelight vigil was the first of these events she’s attended.

Chancellor Elaine Maimon also spoke at the event.

“A candle in the darkness symbolizes so many things: memory, reflection, education, friendship, community,” Maimon said. “We best memorialize those we have lost by lighting a candle in the darkness: that kind word, that supportive gesture, the things that we can do to make this community strong, supportive and loving. That’s what the candle symbolizes and what tonight is for.”

Markley said UAA will hold a candlelight vigil annually during National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week as a way of offering healing to people who’ve lost loved ones because of alcohol abuse.

Wendy Withrow, the administrative assistant for the department of English, lost her only child, Jessie, in 2003.

“I came here to remember my daughter who was killed by a drunk driver,” Withrow said. “She went to college in Maine and was very involved in a student club that put on chem-free activities for students, showing people (how to) to have fun without drinking or taking drugs. She didn’t do those things. It’s really ironical that even though she wouldn’t take the risks of drinking herself, somebody else who did take those risks and who is still living, took her life.”

Blanton, who assisted with organizing the vigil, said he lost a cousin to suicide two months ago, so it was important for him to help with the event.

“This ceremony is as much for me as it is for the individuals in this room who knew (Jason),” Blanton said. “This ceremony is not about dwelling on events of the past, it’s about healing and about remembering the shared times that we had together with our loved ones.”