On a sunny Sunday afternoon this past weekend, the Oakes Learning Center filled up with childhood and college friends, family, professors and men’s rugby teammates. All of them came to say their final goodbyes to UC Santa Cruz fourth-year Benjamin Quaye.
Quaye died one month ago to the day of the memorial, sustaining severe head trauma after hitting his head along the railroad tracks beside Almar Avenue in the early morning hours of February 7.
In front of a picture slideshow backdrop, various members of the UCSC community and beyond stepped up to the podium to share stories about Quaye and how he impacted their lives. Among the speakers was Quaye’s best friend Raul Chavarin, who grew up with him in the Southern California town of Altadena.
“I found out from [his] parents because I was housesitting for them, and they called and told me,” Chavarin said. “I couldn’t accept it. I was in denial [and] I was very angry because I didn’t know the details yet.”
Sociology professor Wendy Martyna, who was one of Quaye’s teachers the past two quarters and described him as a “very intelligent and engaged” student, said her class was equally shocked upon hearing the news.
“There was a real sense that it could’ve been them, a reminder of life’s unpredictability and a real commitment to make good use of their life as a result,” Martyna said.
Quaye’s mother Beverly credits the university with being supportive and forthcoming immediately after hearing about her son’s death.
“They were very engaging from the beginning,” Beverly Quaye said. “No one had an issue with addressing this. The university was extremely understanding and genuine.”
Oakes College Provost Kimberly Lau says that many people at Oakes and UCSC as a whole have responded in the wake of Quaye’s death, which led to the planning of an on-campus memorial.
“There have been a wide array of responses and this memorial tribute is a testament of one way they’ve come together to celebrate his life,” Lau said.
Amid the memories of Quaye as a men’s rugby teammate, student and friend that were shared throughout the memorial service, many honed in on Quaye’s intrinsic passion and desire to help others, which led him to decide to pursue a career as a social worker.
“Ben was my brother and he was a good person before he came [to UCSC], but coming here heightened his social awareness and he was a better man for it,” said Quaye’s older brother Josh. “He wanted to help people before he came here, but UCSC gave him the tools to put his desires into action. He was well on his way to becoming a social worker and influencing others’ lives.”
Beverly Quaye also believes her son’s time at UCSC helped shape his post-graduate goals.
“This school experience had a very big impact on him,” she said. “… The university is more focused on developing the human personality and individual, and I think that was very fitting for Ben and his values. … He was committed to doing something meaningful for society.”
Meanwhile, many at UCSC are planning ways to permanently commemorate Quaye on campus. His rugby teammates are currently looking into establishing a scholarship in Quaye’s name or renaming the Lower East Field after him, and Oakes College administrators plan to plant a tree in the Oakes Garden in his honor.
“We’re going to plant a tree in his honor to memorialize him,” Provost Lau said. “… We just want to have something as an ongoing symbol of his presence.”
While his friends and family agree that Quaye will be remembered for his big smile and infectious personality, his brother Josh says Quaye’s lasting impact will come down to one thing in particular — his inherent desire to help others.
“For those who knew Ben best and truly loved him, we’ll all be more keenly aware of what’s going on in our society,” Josh Quaye said. “Ben really wanted to help people who couldn’t help themselves. I’ll always remember him because he always wanted to put people first.”
In lieu of flowers, the Quaye family is asking for donations to Hillsides, a center for foster care and special-needs children who have been abused, where Quaye volunteered this past summer. Donations can be made at www.hillsides.org.