Ten years ago today, my best friend Drew Everson passed away during our senior year at Duke University. Unfortunately, this anniversary of that awful day comes at a time where so many of our communities have had to deal with the sad realization that life is often hard and even terrible. This year, loss comes in many forms, varying from the loss of "normal" collegiate existence all the way to the loss of our loved ones. Too many forms. However, life goes on, and even in these most brutal of times (indeed, especially in these most brutal times), it is important to recognize how lucky we all are to have formed friendships that allow us to put one foot in front of the other, even when it is hard.
Five years ago, the person I’ve come to call my brother, Pat Rutter, wrote an article about Drew and how he taught us not to take life for granted in his short 21 years on this Earth. My name is Lauren Haigler Henderson and I asked Pat to help me write this because, as it has been with so many things in my life since our best friend died, I couldn’t do this alone. That is the importance of friendship—you don’t have to live life alone. There was a hashtag that went around at the beginning of the pandemic, #alonetogether, and this day has left us feeling alone many times in the past ten years, but we’ve been alone together because of the friendships we forged thanks to Drew.
This weird time has reminded me of a lesson I learned from Drew’s death—the importance of our friends and how we cannot take them for granted. When I spoke at Drew’s memorial service, I talked about how the most important thing Drew taught me was how to be a better friend. Our friends were supposed to gather in Durham for our celebration of Drew Day; Pat had the idea nine years ago that we should celebrate Drew’s life and our friendships on this day every year because that’s what he would have wanted us to do. Drew brought people from all corners of Duke life together during his life, and he continues to do that in his death. But the realities of the pandemic are keeping most of us apart today. However, the beauty of being a part of a community is that it goes beyond physical presence. The knowledge that your friend will have your back is not impacted upon whether you can physically see each other, if you live in the same state, or if you haven't seen each other in a few months or years because "life just got in the way." Life has a tendency to do that, especially as realities of careers and post-collegiate life take hold. In 2020, we've overcome a never-ending onslaught of challenges big and small because we can, and we will, because we are doing it together as a community. We are resilient, and that's why on a day filled with such sadness within a friend group that had the pleasure of knowing Drew is a day in which we celebrate everything that was the best in our friend. And hope that this will inspire you to reflect that same spirit of community, of togetherness, in your life with your friends - because not even a virus will stop us from celebrating the best of life.
So how can our story apply to your lives as Duke students who have never heard of us or Drew until you started reading this article? Pat implored Duke students five years ago not to take life for granted and today we want to add to that and ask you to not ever, ever take your friends for granted. While the pandemic is keeping Drew's friends physically apart today the same way it kept you all apart last spring, impacting every part of what makes the Duke experience so special, we can say (with experience) that our precious friendships are what really stuck with us for the past ten years. Drew told us to enjoy college because life just might get real after we leave the Gothic Wonderland. For us, life got real in the Gothic Wonderland when he died and for all of you, life has gotten real because of COVID-19. However, you must recognize that you still have your friendships from your Duke experience and beyond, and we hope this reminds you not to take any of it for granted. Drew was part of everything that is and was Duke to us. And to this day he is still a huge part of our lives. Some memories you make here at Duke might not last a lifetime as you get older, but if you’re lucky and work at it, the friendships will. Learn to be the overachiever you are at Duke by overachieving in your friendships. Give them an extra high five (for now, either via Zoom or Peloton), compliment their sense of fall fashion, reminisce about the experiences you've had and the silly mistakes you've made. Hold on to them tight because at the end of the day, those relationships are all we have. Enjoy every moment, and the people important to you, while you still can.
Tragedy can strike at any time and the ability to enjoy things while you still can disappears. The tragedy of Drew’s death still haunts us. But it’s the joy of our friendships that keeps us going and serves as a reminder that we can find hope in life’s tragedies. Drew showed us how to truly live and how to be a great friend. Over the past few years, we have constantly adapted a quote from one of his Chronicle columns, Days worth celebrating. Allow us the courtesy of one more edit: “We propose we celebrate friendships more. So join us every day in celebrating whatever it is you want to celebrate...especially your friends.”
In loving memory,
Lauren Haigler Henderson and Patrick Rutter