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Lauren Stark's speech
(delivered by Vivian Rusinek at the 2014 run)


Entering college, I thought of myself as a runner. I dragged myself to the Payne Whitney treadmills each week where I glanced impatiently at the clock every 20 seconds. But then I went for a run with Julia one chilly autumn day early in our freshman year and realized that I had never really run before.

Only one block after traversing Old Campus, my lungs were burning. I panted heavily, and I felt my heart beating throughout my body. I considered asking Julia to turn around but seeing her infectious smile kept me going. We were in rhythmic motion, with our bodies and breaths in harmony. I did not know the destination; I just tried to match my stride with Julia's. This was the first time that I ventured beyond the boundaries of Science Hill.

Julia always seemed to know intuitively what would make someone feel better. During that run, she knew I did not have the strength to utter a word. So she did all of the talking. Listening to Julia distracted me from the aches in my legs. She spoke about her summer experience at the Fresh Air Fund; her thoughts about different prospective majors and her ideas about finding meaning in the world. Running on the fallen red leaves lining Whitney Street prompted her to explain why she loved running outside and how nature inspired her. She encouraged me to slow down and notice the changing clouds. We were immersed in the world of wind, sun, silence, and breath. I knew I would never return to solitary running on a monotonous treadmill. This was just one of the many times when Julia's example enriched my life and opened me up to new experiences.

Arriving back at campus, we headed to the dining hall for one of our many meals that started as brunch and ended in the afternoon. It was accompanied by one of Julia's typical epic dining hall conversations. Over the course of this three-hour lunch, during which we popped up repeatedly for nibbles from the buffet line, various friends came and left the table. Everyone seemed to make Julia laugh. She laughed deeply. Sitting next to her, time seemed endless. It was a privilege to nourish my friendship with Julia over these meals, when we were not rushing to be anywhere.

Julia was a connector. Living, working, and playing together in college leads to building connections unlike relationships we form in other times of life. Julia made the most of this wealth of spontaneous interaction. She was always happy to meet anyone for a study date, for a snack or for a run- she was available for anything and for anyone. She just wanted to bring together the people she cared about. She always had a wide mix of friends surrounding her, and she encouraged them to become friends with one another. She cultivated these friendships by reaching out and by being there for people, by modeling inclusion and kindness. She always embraced others with such vibrant warmth.

Julia was also there for people when they needed her. You never felt like she had somewhere else to be except right there with you. I was just one of Julia's many friends who felt they could confide in her, rely on her, and call on her during a crisis. Each of my discoveries and struggles I shared with Julia. I felt lost at times during my sophomore year, perceiving that my fellow students had already "figured it out" and I was still trying to find my way. I always turned to Julia to lift me up. Sometimes Julia responded with an insightful comment, but other times she knew when I just needed a hug. There was something about the way that Julia listened with her full-awakened heart that led me to share my insecurities and my vulnerabilities -- perhaps because she had no walls or guards up herself. Her open and calming presence encouraged and empowered me when I felt insecure.

Julia also just knew how to have a good time. We pulled many all-nighters together, each time vowing to finish our respective assignments. We always went to the library around midnight and were determined to be supremely efficient. However, after making the slightest bit of progress on our work, we would reward ourselves with a WaWa study break and then another break after an hour. By sunrise, Julia was at her silliest, cracking me up by covering her teeth with orange segments. The accomplishments we made during those all-nighters probably could have been compressed into one hour of work during the day. But it wasn't about getting work done. It was about the shared experience. Sharing this time with Julia was glorious.

I also benefited from Julia's eagerness to soak up her surroundings. I followed Julia to master's teas and public lectures, and I joined her discussions with classmates. Julia was curious about everything around her, most especially, other people. She absorbed new ideas and perspectives and inhabited a world of possibility and questions. She was always striving and growing on our college adventure.

Yet for all she did, there was so much more she wanted to do; more friends to make; more subjects and experiences to explore. She gave compassionately and sincerely to her friends and family but was also deeply dedicated to giving herself to the wider world. Today's run is dedicated primarily to LEAP (Leadership, Education, Athletics in Partnership), an enrichment program for New Haven children. LEAP is one of countless organizations to which she devoted her life.

Julia would have loved this day, bringing her family and friends together for a cause to which she was dedicated. She would have loved the camaraderie, the laughter and the running outdoors. She would have loved that we are here together for a higher purpose. She relished the wonder and goodness of the moment. I feel strongly that she is carrying us today. She is here breathing life and beauty through all of us. Let us feel her poignant loving and let it all in. Let's follow Julia's model and commit to savoring this moment, to being open to what it has to offer, to appreciating the people she has brought together.


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