“Pain becomes positive when it brings you back to Allah […] Be thankful, it can always be worse. Allah never tests you with something you cannot overcome.”
Shireen Ahsan wrote these words just days before she died. They were projected on a screen at her memorial on Tuesday night.
“She wrote this on her board, and I don’t know why,” her father said before a room of about 70 people. “It’s like she left it for us.”
Ahsan’s friends, family, acquaintances and even those who didn’t know her gathered in the Kresge Town Hall in her honor. Ahsan, 19, was a second-year Kresge affiliate interested in computer science. She was active in the Muslim Student Association on campus and was an academic assistant for Kresge’s core course.
Before the memorial began, a few people took off their shoes, laid down intricately woven Islamic prayer rugs and kneeled on the rugs to pray. The memorial consisted only of an open microphone, but it gave loved ones a chance to share their memories of Ahsan with others.
Ahsan was one of two UC Santa Cruz students who were swept away by a large wave on the evening of Jan. 18. Five students went to Bonny Doon beach together, but Ahsan, Solaiman Nourzaie and one other student were the only ones who climbed down a cliff and onto a rock outcrop below. While they stood there, a wave 10- to 15-feet high crashed over them and pulled Ahsan and Nourzaie into rough and frigid waters. The third student was uninjured.
The Coast Guard, CAL Fire, Santa Cruz City officials, the County Sheriff’s Department and other state and local agencies searched for 22 hours. They dispatched two boats and two helicopters, but could not find them. Ahsan’s death was confirmed when her body washed up on a beach near Wilder Ranch State Park, five miles south of the original incident. As of Feb. 3, authorities have still not recovered Nourzaie’s body.
One person who stepped up to the microphone at Ahsan’s memorial was a student who identified himself as Hassan. He was the student who fell into the water with Ahsan and Nourzaie but was able to get back on shore uninjured.
“She was standing next to me,” Hassan said. “And when the wave came, she said my name. But I couldn’t save her. I wish I could’ve saved her.”
Another student who spoke on the microphone was Haroon Syed, who was also there when Ahsan and Nourzaie were swept away. He remembered freezing in place as he watched Ahsan disappear into the ocean.
“For some reason, my body doesn’t move, and I play this moment in my head over and over and over again,” Syed said. “I’ve always thought about what could’ve happened if I ran over to her. But we can’t think like that.”
Syed paused before the audience. “Ultimately, she isn’t ours. Everything belongs to Allah. We might think that she was taken from us, but she’s going to where she belongs.”
Syed was one of over a dozen people who spoke. The audience also heard from Ahsan’s longtime friends, students who had only known her for a quarter, her core course instructor and students Ahsan had mentored for the class. Syed said Ahsan was one of the closest friends he made during his time at UCSC, and one of the most compassionate people he had known in his life.
“May Allah forgive all our sins,” he said softly as he walked back to his seat. “And may Allah bring her home.”