By Michelle Lampariello
The campus community continued to demonstrate its power to bond together in times of tragedy during a candlelight vigil to honor the memory of Michael Sot and to support the recoveries of Ryan Moore, Anthony Galante, Danielle DeFlores, Matthew DeGenova and Moore’s girlfriend Jenna Passero in Kendall Hall Mainstage Theater on Wednesday, Dec. 12.
The vigil was held 11 days after the five students became victims of a head-on collision with an intoxicated driver, according to prosecutors. Members of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and Delta Zeta sorority spoke about the warm, compassionate and bubbly personalities of each of the victims, and acknowledged Sot’s dedication to “doing the right thing” as the group’s designated driver the night of the crash.
College President Kathryn Foster and Interim Vice President for Student Affairs Sean Stallings also addressed the crowd. Both acknowledged the strong community ties that have become prominent in the aftermath of the crash as students support one another through the wave of grief that has come over the College.
“In this unforeseen and bewildering turn of events, I have experienced at TCNJ a deeply caring community,” Foster said. “In your concern, and in your love for one another, and for the families of Matt, Anthony, Michael, Ryan and Danielle, I have never been so proud of, or loved this place and its people more.”
Sot’s fraternity brother Brandon Mejia, a sophomore communication studies major, told the crowd about how Sot always made sure that his friends felt happy and loved. He explained how he always felt welcome in Sot’s dorm room, and Sot had even invited Mejia to spend Thanksgiving with his family in his hometown of Clark, New Jersey.
Mejia read the crowd a text he received earlier this semester from Sot, in which Sot half-jokingly outlines his theory that life is a simulation. While at first this seemed as though it would be a moment of comic relief, Sot’s ideas were particularly poignant.
“Remember — we’re in a simulation anyway,” Sot’s text read. “So don’t let your emotions get to you too much… and whatever they’ve planned for you, well it’s gonna happen whether you realize it or not, whether you want it to or not. So just relax — do you, let the codes do their thing.”
Parents of all five students spoke about how they have been coping with the events of the past 11 days, and expressed their gratitude for the support they have received from the campus community.
Anthony Galante’s father, Frank Galante, intentionally made the crowd laugh when he thanked the campus community for their frequent sandwich deliveries to the hospital. Though his mispronunciation of “Chick-fil-A” may have produced some well-meaning giggles in the crowd, students understood the sincerity of his message.
“When you spend 24 hours sitting in a room watching blips on a computer screen, flipping out every time you see a number go up or down, you forget to breathe, you forget to eat, drink or sleep, and the craziness starts in your head and in your heart,” Galante said. “The people from the school and the fraternity who came numerous times always seemed to be there when we got at our lowest points, whether it was with a Dunkin Donuts coffee, more sandwiches than I could possibly eat, and God knows I did try to finish them, or Chick-fil-A — this is a new foreign food. I ate it about five times, and I get it.”
Ryan Moore’s father, Eric Moore, addressed the importance of finding light in dark times. Like Galante, Moore was at times humorous in his attempts to explain to the crowd how the campus community has made a positive impact in the aftermath of the crash.
Moore explained that while sitting in the intensive care unit waiting room, he would stare at a door with the word “trauma” on it. This ironically prompted the song “Beautiful Trauma” by P!nk to become stuck in Moore’s head. At first he was frustrated by this, since he could find nothing “beautiful” in his son’s suffering.
As the days passed, however, Moore was given hope by the outpouring of support the victims received by friends, family and even strangers. Moore feels that it is imperative to never lose hope during times of struggle, and to find the light and beauty in even the darkest of tragedies.
“Perhaps I was a bit too hard on P!nk,” he joked.
Michael Sot Sr.’s address to the crowd left several students in tears as he honored his son’s memory as a caring, intelligent and friendly young man. He explained how Michael Sot was a role model for his younger brothers, and a loving son who was recognized in his community for being a respectful and kind person.
“This is something that you never imagine — this is no phone call any parent wants to get in the middle of the morning,” Sot said. “I’ve had this conversation with all of my children that this is just a call you don’t want to get. Do the right thing. Don’t ever get in a car and drink. Don’t ever get in a car and drive. Look out for others — protect others, put others first. And that night, that’s exactly what Mike did.”
Sot thanked first responders, doctors, nurses, medical staff and clergy for all they did to help his son, and their ongoing work to help the other victims.
He hopes that his son’s legacy will never disappear, and explained that we all “die twice — the first time we die is when your soul goes to heaven. The second time is when people stop saying your name.”
Following the conclusion of remarks from the students’ friends and families, campus community members exited the theater and gathered in front of Green Hall, candles in hand.
As a group of students sang “Silent Night,” others quietly reflected on the events of the past 11 days. Following the reminder to find light in darkness, many stared into their candle’s flame as they continue their journey of healing.