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Northwestern Commemorates Harsha Maddula

Campus gathers on Deering Meadow to pay respects

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September 28, 2012 | by Alan K. Cubbage
Memorial service
Assistant chaplain Tahera Ahmad was among the speakers as members of the Northwestern community gathered on Deering Meadow Sept. 28 to pay respects to Harsha Maddula. Photo by Rafi Letzter/The Daily Northwestern.

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Nearly 2,000 Northwestern University students, faculty, staff and community members gathered Friday (Sept. 28) evening on Deering Meadow to pay their respects, say prayers and honor the memory of Harsha Maddula, the missing Northwestern University sophomore who passed away last week.

The somber but uplifting program featured speakers from several student groups, University leaders and Northwestern President Morton Schapiro, who called Harsha “an inspiration to us all.”

The gathering marked a sad end to a tragic week for Harsha's family and Northwestern. After Harsha was reported missing, hundreds of students and community members had come together in searches of the campus and areas of Evanston. 

The events played out as Wildcat Welcome festivities were still in full swing and Northwestern students prepared to start classes last Thursday (Sept. 27) for the 2012-13 academic year. Many attended Friday night's gathering.

President Schapiro evoked the spirit of Yom Kippur (Sept. 25-26) and the holiest day on the Jewish calendar to underscore his deep sorrow for the loss of Harsha to his family members, fellow students and community members, noting that he had prayed for Harsha all week and would continue to keep him in his heart and prayers.

Assistant Chaplain Tahera Ahmad said, “Although this week has brought grief and sadness, it made us realize that we are family, and Harsha was one of us. We will always remember Harsha for who he was, a great source of happiness, a great source of joy.”

Under a nearly full moon, with the speakers bathed in lights and Deering Library as a dramatic backdrop, the crowd stretched across the width of Deering Meadow, standing more than 20 deep in many places. 

The quiet assembly formed a semicircle around the Deering steps, where student leaders and speakers from the University, a representative of the family and members of at least five different faith groups said prayers from the Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Baha'i religions.

The South Asian student a capella group, Brown Sugar, sang a moving version of the Beyonce song "Halo," with part of the lyrics in Hindi and Arabic, in honor of Harsha. 

“We are one Northwestern,” said Victor Shao, ASG president.

As the gathering came to a close, the community sang the University Alma Mater softly, with the strains of "Hail to purple, Hail to white" echoing across the meadow in the darkness before the crowd slowly dispersed.

On Monday, Harsha's family held a funeral in New York. Harsha was from New Hyde Park, N.Y., and he was a sophomore in Northwestern's McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. He was last seen Sept. 22 at approximately 12:30 a.m. leaving a party off campus. Northwestern police and community service officers, aided by personnel from more than 20 law enforcement agencies and fire departments, on Wednesday conducted a search of the waters in Wilmette Harbor and Lake Michigan near the harbor. His body was found there the following evening.

Staff members from Counseling and Psychological Services are available for students who wish to talk with them and may be contacted at 847-491-2151.