Campus, community mourn loss of student

By Emma WestRasmus

The new school year began with sunny days and the buzzing of students reconnecting with friends, figuring out class schedules and adjusting to life in St. Paul. But an air of somber reverence also permeated the lively campus, as the Macalester community reeled from the recent death of Cleo Thiberge, a new student killed in a traffic accident mere hours after her arrival to Macalester two weeks ago. The 19-year-old exchange student from France was struck by a turning car at the intersection of Hamline Avenue and Grand Avenue at five p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 29. Thiberge was taken to Regions Hospital, and died four days later. Thiberge had been on campus for less than 24 hours the day she was struck near the Twisted Fork Grille on Grand Avenue. According to Dean of Students Jim Hoppe, Thiberge had been on a school-sponsored shopping trip with other international students earlier in the day, and was scheduled to begin international student orientation at seven p.m. Though the school year had not yet started and most students know Thiberge only by her name, her death has profoundly impacted the community. “It has tapped into the grief that a community can feel even when they don’t know a person,” said Rev. Lucy Forster-Smith, the Associate Dean for Religious and Spiritual Life. Forster-Smith informed the student body of Thiberge’s death on Sept. 3 through an email. “It taps into other grief, losses, and sadness that members of our community feel personally.” Despite having only recently arrived to campus, Thiberge had already left an impression on those she had interacted with. “There were quite a few people who remembered her as more than just a passing interaction,” Hoppe said. Forster-Smith agreed with Hoppe, noting how quickly Thiberge had embraced the community and how Mac’s “permeable community” received her and drew her in. “I am so struck by how someone can be on campus one day and have so many people their life touches,” Forster-Smith said. “What impresses me is how many people got to know her, from her R.A., her orientation leaders, and the international student mentors…anyone who had contact with her embraced her so quickly into this community.” Though many students, faculty and staff didn’t have the chance to get to know Thiberge, the community has felt the loss, and found ways to both come together to grieve the loss and to celebrate Thiberge’s life. The Chapel was specially opened to students as a space to reflect and come together the day after Thiberge’s death, and Macalester College Student Government sponsored a moment of silence on Bateman Plaza at noon on Monday. Flags on campus have been lowered to half-mast in honor of Thiberge, and Thiberge’s family—her parents, twin sister, and her brother—was given letters of condolence and support written by students. More than 100 students and community members attended the moment of silence on Monday. Kate Hamilton ’13, chair of MCSG’s Financial Affairs Committee, spoke at the event and called on students to translate the profound sense of loss into a recommitment to the friendships and relationships “We are reminded to speak kindly to one another, to be honest in our feelings, to take advantage of all that this community has to offer, both in knowledge gained and in the people we meet and the relationships we make,” Hamilton said. “I urge you to take a moment of reflection in the next few days to give thanks to those who have helped you, to tell those you care about how much they mean to you, and especially to be friendly to those who you might not even know yet.” Thiberge’s family flew to St. Paul from France immediately following the accident, and spent a significant amount of time with Macalester administrators. Hoppe said Thiberge’s parents “emphasized how excited Cleo was to be starting this adventure at Mac.” “They had the deepest gratitude for the way Mac was with them during the process and they wanted to express that gratitude publicly,” Forster-Smith said. A police report has not yet been released with the details of the accident or any charges being pressed against the driver of the sport-utility vehicle that struck Thiberge. According to eyewitnesses Thiberge had the walk signal, was in the crosswalk, and was not texting or using her phone, reported the Pioneer Press. “It sounds like she did everything correctly,” Hoppe said. “But all it takes is someone else not doing everything correctly to cause a tragedy.” The loss of Thiberge weighs heavy on the campus, but also calls the Macalester community to honor her life through a renewed commitment to kindness and connection. “Although Cleo was only on campus for a short while, she will be a part of this community always, constantly reminding us to live life fully and lovingly,” Hamilton said. refresh –>