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Always a Blue Devil

Everyone moves to their own beat. On this campus, everyone hums along to their own melody of hopes, dreams and ambitions that we push toward each day we wake up in our Gothic Wonderland. But with storms uprooting parts of the South and wildfires ravaging the West, we become painfully aware of our own frailty against the inevitability of tragedy. We pause and mourn the trauma that hit far too close to home for many among us. And some days, we carry heavy hearts, as we did this Friday when our classmate, Bobby Menges passed away. On these days, we stop as the sound of campus dims, as our own fears of death and its inevitability echo in our heads. 

Bobby was a junior in Trinity, a member of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity and a beloved friend in the Duke community. His friends describe him as an inspiration and a ray of light, so full of life. Throughout his life, Bobby suffered from a neuroectodermal tumor, a condition that followed him to Duke. Last year, his fraternity organized a fundraising event for Duke’s adolescent and young adult oncology program to honor him and Mark Schreiber, another member of the fraternity who was diagnosed with a brain tumor. This weekend, Bobby’s friends and fraternity brothers mourned the loss of a dear friend.

Many of us do not often contemplate death. As young adults, we plan the next years and decades of our lives, filling our time with activities and work that will help us secure the future we envision for ourselves. We come to campus with promise, one that grants us the security of planning our days and years ahead. Indeed, as Duke undergraduates we are often reminded of the limitless opportunities we have been granted as students here; to have that taken away from members of our own campus community so abruptly and unexpectedly is an indescribable tragedy. 

Such tragic passings inevitably remind us of own mortality on campus, no matter how secure our Duke bubble may seem. On Friday, we lost four other members of our Duke community when a Duke Life Flight helicopter crashed in Perquimans County, killing pilot Jeff Burke along with nurses Crystal Sollinger and Kris Harrison as well as their patient. This summer, we mourned the loss of junior Michael Doherty after classmates, friends and family searched for him in the days after he went missing. 

When death has stricken our community in the past, we have commented on the fleeting nature of life and the unexpected nature of death. Today, these words feel insufficient. No number of words can recreate the lives and impact of the members of our community we have lost this semester and summer. We can reminiscence and extol their virtues in memory, but their loss will be felt by those closest to them forever. 

We extend our heartfelt condolences to the family, friends and other loved ones of Bobby Menges, Michael Doherty, Jeff Burke, Crystal Sollinger, Kris Harrison and the patient aboard the Life Flight helicopter. May they rest in peace, and may the music they brought to our campus and to the lives of those around them continue to resound. 


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