Students mourn deceased peers at vigil

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Margaret Matteson

As the Christmas tree was being lit outside the Lucas Administration Building Tuesday night, more than 30 students huddled together at Shoemaker Square with candles in hand to pray and share memories of former students Jada Bright and Donald Daley Jr. during a candlelight vigil.

Both died in car accidents over the Thanksgiving break. Senior public relations major from Slidell, Bright was one of three who died in a five-vehicle car crash on I-59 Thanksgiving morning.

Daley, a Southern Miss alumni and track and field student-athlete, died the next day in Atlanta, according to family friends.

Members of Elevate, Queens Uplifted, Sigma Gamma Rho and Delta Sigma Theta organized the vigil. Junior therapeutic recreation major and Vice President of Queens Uplifted Elizabeth Winder led it.

Winder said she thought the university needed to do something to help students grieve.

“I felt like the campus needed to do something now,” Winder said. “The students were hurting right now. Of course there’s no time limit to the grieving process, but I knew that something had to be done. And I knew that if the university didn’t step up to do anything or no other organization stepped up then I felt like I had to.”

Winder said she got acquainted with Bright and Daley while she was working at the front desk in the Jim and Thomas Duff Athletic Center. When Winder heard the news, she said she was shocked to realized that she would no longer see those familiar faces.

Junior English major Cherish Triplett was the only person to step forward when Winder invited the crowd to share a few words about the deceased.

Triplett said she was annoyed by this, but she is happy she “shared what was on [her] heart.”

“I truly cared about Jada, and I wanted her to somehow know that,” Triplett said.

With tears streaming down her face, Triplett shared her fondest memories of Bright, which included their bonding over books, makeup and workout routines, but also Bright’s kindness.

Triplett told the crowd that her favorite memory of Bright was when she called her “gorgeous” every time they met. Although Triplett said she initially did not believe Bright was referring to her, she said she began to feel uplifted by Bright’s compliment.

“Hearing someone so beautiful who had this glow to her did something to me,” Triplett said. “From then on, me and Jada had some type of connection.”

Winder said listening to Triplett was “heartwarming.”

“I was trying to hold back tears because you could tell Jada was the type of person who was really there for her when she needed her to be there,” Winder said.

Shelley Rose, the woman whose Dodge Caravan crashed head-on to Bright’s Saturn Ion, had four DUIs at the time, the last of which she earned Nov. 20, according to The Clarion Ledger. Remembering this, Triplett began to choke up as she told the crowd what happened to Bright “wasn’t right.”

“I pray that her death gets some type of justice because it just shows us how flawed our justice system is,” Triplett said.

Junior broadcast journalism major Ryone Thompson said she was pleased with the turnout for Bright.

“To me the turnout was a little bit more private, so that was good on the account of the fact that Jada was a private person herself,” Thompson said. “She stayed to herself. Even if she was feeling down about something, she never let it show. She was always smiling.”

Bright was set to graduate Dec. 7. Thompson said she is using that as motivation to “focus on the positive” after losing one of her best friends.

“I know Jada would want me to be strong, and she would want me to finish out the school year strong, especially since she was about to graduate in December,” Thompson said.

Before the vigil ended, junior broadcast journalism major JaNya Barnett announced that she and Thompson would be collecting things for Bright’s funeral in the same spot she met Bright two years ago.

“Anything matters. Water, cards, anything Jada left with you, anything that she blessed you with. If she’s talked to you, [send] words of encouragement to her family,” Barnett said.

Students can either give their things to Thompson or Barnett or take them to College Hall 106, where they can also sign a sympathy card.

Bright’s funeral will be held Saturday at 1 p.m. in Slidell.

Public relations professor and Associate Director in the Center for Faculty Development Cindy Blackwell, Ph.D., will be driving students to the funeral at 10:30 a.m. from College Hall. Students should contact Blackwell via email at cindy.s.blackwell@usm.edu if they wish to ride.