Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Happy 30th Birthday, Jay.

Jay at his Introduction, Lagos 2012.

As some of you know, my brother-in-law passed away two days after Christmas. I still can't make sense of what happened.

I have written variations of this post countless times in the last nine months. Each time, I type a few sentences before realizing it's pointless; the words I need to express what I'm feeling just don't exist.

I think about the depth of my grief and I know it pales in comparison to what his parents are feeling, to what his sister is feeling, to what his wife (my sister) is feeling.

There are several things I found out about Jay in the last nine months yet none of those things surprise me. Like the fact that he and a classmate drove to Sandy Hook, CT after the horrific shootings at a local elementary school and joined other protesters who successfully prevented Westboro Baptist Church from picketing a vigil. That's just how Jay was. He wasn't the type of guy to watch something awful happen on TV,  think "well that sucks" and then go about his day. He was a man who felt the need to act.

It's incredibly comforting to learn other people knew how amazing Jay was. It's great when people approach us and share their stories about Jay's character, his conviction, his sarcasm, his all-around goodness.

Instead of pretending I understand any of this, I just want to share excerpts from some of the letters Jay's colleagues and professors wrote and sent to UMass Boston's Writ Large magazine after he passed away. He was modest but I'm more than happy to brag about him, especially on his birthday.

"Jay's presence was compelling - not because he spoke a lot, but because there was an earnestness in his eyes and demeanor, a piercing attention that he conveyed in the manner in which he listened to what his classmates had to say, the tilt of his head as he contemplated the implications of certain ideas, and the taut energy of his body leaning into the words that swirled around in that memorable class. He was an idealist, a person who believed in kindness and compassion and truth. He was determined to participate in creating conditions that would make us live up to our best intentions.

In the four years that I had the privilege of knowing Jay, I felt his special qualities. he was a gift to us all. I was deeply touched to hear from his mother recently that Jay "found himself" at UMass Boston. We feel lucky that Jay thought of UMass Boston as his first academic home. He will always be very dear to us."

Rajini Srikanth
Professor, English, Dean, Honors College, University of Massachusetts Boston

"Honestly, I did not know Jay very well, but what I know of him I liked. I knew he was involved in the National Lawyers' Guild and that he participated in our International Human Rights Clinic. I knew he cared about his community based on his active participation in the law school's "town hall" meetings that fall. I liked all of those things. I did not know his whole back story; about how committed he was to doing something worthwhile with his law degree; about how he took a while to get his bearings in life; or about how he met and fell in love with his wife. I learned about those things at his memorial service. 

That memorial service was beautiful. The minister did a greta job, but the assembled family and friends moved me to tears. I left there really feeling the loss of a person who had the passion, commitment and intelligence to make a difference in the world. I felt that loss not only as the Dean of his law school, knowing that I lost an alumnus who could have made his mark in the world, but also as a citizen and fellow human being, knowing that someone who was willing to try and fight the good fight was never going to get the chance. I could not help but feel the pain of potential unrealized. I will think of that lost potential often."

Eric Gouvin,
Dean of the Western New England University School of Law

"Jay's politics, I gradually learned, were formed largely by his deep commitment to the simple notion that we all ought to treat each other well. He was convinced that the political/economic system we live under prevented that. Jay had already made many contributions to a better world when he was so inexplicably taken from us. In his quiet way, he surely would have made many more."

Bruce Miller
Professor of Law,
Western New England University School of Law

"Jay attracted people to him for good reason. Because of his qualities - modesty, passion, goodness, intelligence and personality - Jay influenced those around him in a commendable way. Rather than lament what Jay might have been, I see in his legacy an example. Because Jay possessed such admirable qualities, he attracted people to him and made a positive impact upon them. Through that influence, Jay's goodness, passion and spirit will live on."

Julie E. Steiner
Associate Professor of Law,
Western New England University School of Law

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