Friends, family remember in wake of student’s death
Sophomore Sarah Longyear died Friday, April 22 in Palo Alto, Calif., her hometown, after being struck by a passenger train. Longyear, who was suffering from depression, was on a leave of absence from Washington University and residing at home. She was 19 at the time of her death.
A walk-on on the varsity basketball team and member of the sorority Chi Omega, Longyear contributed to the Washington University community in a number of different ways. A National Merit Scholar in high school, Longyear was studying in the College of Arts & Sciences.
Sophomores Ellen Sheehy and Natalie Edwards, two of Longyear’s close friends and suitemates, remember her for her sunny disposition and surprising creativity.
“She’s one of those people, always had a big smile, she was always laughing, and she was someone who when you talked to her she made people feel good about themselves,” Edwards said. “[She] was always asking questions, asking about yourself, what you were doing, what you were interested in, she really wanted to know about anything and everything about everyone else.”
“She had these felt letters that cut out in exactly the font of ‘Friends’…And underneath she had all the pictures of her friends,” Sheehy said. “[People] would look at her wall and be like ‘Oh you’re an art student’ and she was like ‘No, I’m just really good at this.’ Everything was as she liked to say ‘awesome.’”
Edwards described Longyear as a person full of passion about her involvements—someone who was excited to take part in new things and succeed.
“She walked onto the basketball team her freshman year—who does that? She just walked onto this varsity sport and showed up at practice everyday and she was passionate about it,” Edwards said. “That was just the kind of person she was—she would just get involved in things and succeed at them.”
Chancellor Mark Wrighton offered his condolences to the family following Longyear’s passing in a statement sent to Student Life.
“Like the many who knew and loved Sarah, we are terribly saddened by the news and we extend our deepest sympathies to her family. We hope they find peace during this very difficult time,” Wrighton wrote in the statement.
Her mother also remembers Longyear as a warm, effusive person and acknowledged how important her friends and communities were to Longyear.
“She was a really sweet and thoughtful and caring and fun-loving, just wanted to be accepted and just loved having friends,” Longyear said. “Ellen and Natalie were incredible support and the basketball team…were incredible support for her.”
Both her mother and her friends noted that while Longyear went to great lengths to make sure others were happy, those same efforts were often missing in her own life.
“She put so much thought into everything she did and what it really came down to was that she was a people pleaser,” Sheehy said. “She would do anything to make other people happy and to make other people’s day, but she struggled with her own happiness. She couldn’t accept herself. That’s what it comes down to.”
Her mother hopes that her daughter’s death can be an opportunity for students to become more aware of mental illness and seek help if need be.
“One thing to tell the Wash. U. students or any student, if you have a roommate or someone you know who you think might be in trouble, and the hardest thing of course is if they don’t want help, but to encourage them to seek help,” Longyear said.
Ultimately, Sheehy noted that she would remember Longyear not for whatever she was going through but for the direct impact she had made on her college experience.
“Her friendship is at the core of my Wash. U. experience,” Sheehy said. “We were always the ones who maybe smiled a little too big in the hallways. Anyone that you ever ask about her will tell you that she is an amazing, bright—everyone uses light to describe her because she brought energy to a room…Whenever she did anything, she pulled out all of the stops.”
If you or anyone you know is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, please reach out to these resources:
Student Health Services: (314) 935-6666
WUPD: (314) 935-5555
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255
Life Crisis Services: (314) 533-8200