Senior Rebecca DeNardis leaves behind a legacy of remarkable dedication and kindness toward others.
DeNardis, who was known as “Becky,” passed away Friday in a car accident on a Duke-sponsored spring break trip to Florida. DeNardis, who was 21 at the time of the accident, and six other students were traveling back to Duke in a van with the director of Duke's Outdoor Adventures program when it was struck by another vehicle. She is survived by her parents, Dave and Judy, and older sister Emily, as well as many friends at Duke and beyond.
“Becky was really sharp, she was very witty and she was one of the most empathetic people I ever met,” said Samhita Noone, who graduated in the Fall and was a former roommate and close friend of DeNardis. “She was a very driven person but not just in terms of herself, in terms of her goals for her community and so concerned about women in tech, for example.”
A double major in computer science and mathematics from Cary, N.C., DeNardis interned for two consecutive summers at Google, first in Seattle and then in Chapel Hill. She was offered a job at the company and planned to move to California after graduating in May. DeNardis was also a dean’s list honoree, a recipient of the full-tuition Braxton Craven Scholarship and an inductee of Phi Beta Kappa—the nation's oldest academic honor society.
DeNardis’ father noted that the scholarship contributed to Becky’s decision to go to the University and that she fell in love with the school as she attended. She became hooked on computer science after taking her first course in the discipline, which led her to pursue the subject in further academic endeavors as well as professionally. Her passion for math started back when she was young, taking after her father—also a math major—especially when he would practice and play math games with her.
“She was very good at it and enjoyed it and that was a perfect fit,” he said. “When she was young she’d ask a question, then she’d ask us five more. She wanted to learn everything.”
Noone said that DeNardis took classes and studied extra over the summer so that she could spend time on her own original projects during the school year.
“One thing a lot of people recognize is how bright and intelligent she was,” Noone said. “Top of her class in compsci and math—she was literally on that trajectory that she wanted.”
DeNardis’ father noted that Becky aimed to work in the tech industry for a while and eventually wanted to find a job where she could work directly to help people.
“That was the byproduct of a lot of the people she met at Duke,” he said. “There were a lot of socially conscious people around her.”
DeNardis was also a TA for many classes since her freshman year, and an active member of both the intramural soccer team and Round Table selective living group. In Round Table, where she lived for three years, she was known for facilitating recruitment, serving on the House Council multiple years and making personal connections with many who lived there.
“Round Table was 100 percent the defining experience of Duke for all of us,” Noone said. “[We] found such a strong, supportive community.”
Round Table members put up posters, candles and makeshift memorials over the weekend to remember Becky and support one another, said senior Fei Gao, another close friend and former roommate.
Gao and Noone, who with DeNardis have all been interchanging roommates at Duke and very close friends, recounted memories of Becky over the years such as her penchant for reading the first page of books but never finishing them, her habit of “zigzag” walking down the narrow hallways of Round Table section, her knack for finding new music on Spotify and her uniquely specific tastes in movies.
“Becky was one of those who people who are understatedly charismatic,” Noone said. “You don’t realize you’re being charmed until it's too late.”
Both friends agreed that DeNardis could turn ordinary situations into special ones just by being herself. Noone referenced this past winter break when she and DeNardis and a group of friends visited Gao in her hometown as one of her strongest memories of her friend.
“The three of us sharing one huge queen-sized bed chatting about everything or nothing at all, sharing random stories, that are probably actually really ordinary," Gao said. "But the moment was very special."
DeNardis’ parents explained that her college experiences drew her out of her shell and helped her to develop as a person, adding to the sharp wit and compassionate demeanor she had had all along.
“I’ve been saying, ‘She is comfortable in her own skin,'” her mother Judy DeNardis said. “She was happy with who she was.”