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Gathering honors life of ‘silent leader’ exchange student

Members of the UM community gathered outside of Stanford Residential College on Monday night and held a candlelight vigil in remembrance of Frederik Westerberg. Giancarlo Falconi // Staff Photographer

Members of the UM community gathered outside of Stanford Residential College on Monday night and held a candlelight vigil in remembrance of Frederik Westerberg. Giancarlo Falconi // Staff Photographer

Amid the small crowd of mourners at University of Miami student Frederik Westerberg’s memorial stood a blue bicycle carrying a basket of personal books and flowers as a symbol of the rider it once carried.

Students and faculty members gathered at Pearson Residential College Monday evening to remember the life of Westerberg, who passed away before winter commencement on Dec. 17.

Westerberg came to UM from Denmark to study molecular biology for a semester after completing two years at the University of Copenhagen. He was 22 years old and on track to receive his bachelor’s degree this year.

Westerberg’s memorial service was held at associate professor Laura Kohn-Wood’s faculty apartment at Pearson Residential College. Guests included Westerberg’s mother, Charlotte Rørth, and his Resident Assistant (RA) Danny New. Monsignor Michael Carruthers of St. Augustine Church was asked to lead prayer. Also among those present were representatives from UM Administration, Pearson and Stanford Residential College, the UM Study Abroad Office, UM International Admissions and the Royal Danish Consulate of South Florida.

Speakers remembered Westerberg for his humility, dedication and most of all, his warm smile. They painted a portrait of a quiet young man who loved soccer and reading. He was a scholar, athlete, son, and younger brother to two. Pearson’s Assistant Area Director Brittany Maffett described Westerberg as an active member of the community who had an “eagerness to connect to others” and a “heart that was eager to explore and grow.”

Vice President of Student Affairs Patricia Whitely also spoke at the service on behalf of administration.

“[Westerberg] was engaged, ” she said. “He got involved and took advantage of what we had to offer.”

Friends repeatedly mentioned his intelligence and passion. New said Westerberg excelled in all of his classes and wanted to cure cancer someday.  New also reminded students at the service of their importance within the UM community, calling Westerberg a “silent leader” who had touched many.

Assistant professor Isaac Skromne of the biology department recognized his student’s courage.

“I saw myself reflected in Frederik,” Skromne said. “In the fact that he wanted to leave home to come here and get outside of his comfort zone.”

Rørth, representing Westerberg’s family, said she knew Westerberg was comfortable at UM.

“We were left little notes that were only for us to see,” Rørth said. “So I know that he was happy to be here. The way we’ve chosen to view it is that his last months were probably some of his happiest months, at least of his later years.”

According to Rørth , Westerberg possessed a calming presence in the family; brother Nicholas referred to Westerberg as the “anchor” of his life.

Rørth drew a comparison between Westerberg’s soccer skills and his role in life.

“He was a defender, and he was so good at it,” she said. “He would make everyone feel secure … you could always count on him.”

Rørth also addressed the confusion and shock surrounding Westerberg’s sudden death. She said that Westerberg had always been very shy and had sought professional help for it in Denmark and in the United States.

“We don’t know if this was what drove him to end his life,” she said. “We will never know. He just wrote that he really tired, and exhausted, and he wanted to go somewhere where he could rest.”

After the memorial service, attendees participated in an honorary bike ride to Stanford Residential College, where a candlelight vigil was held on the grass. New escorted Westerberg’s favorite blue bicycle, which Westerberg often used to explore Miami. Attendees without wheels followed on foot. The vigil allowed students to reflect silently on Westerberg’s life and legacy as they lit candles in his memory.

Rørth thanked the UM community for taking care of Westerberg and spoke about coping with such tragedy.

“We know there’s a lot that we could’ve done,” she said at the service. “But we don’t know if that would have been sufficient. We will never know that. None of us are almighty. We have to find a balance between knowing we can make a difference and knowing we’re not almighty. But we have to believe that the love between people can make a big difference. So I will not give up believing that.”

Westerberg’s funeral took place on Jan. 2 near his home in Denmark.

For students in need of grief counseling or other assistance, counselors and chaplains are available to students. The Counseling Center can be reached at 305-284-5511 and the contact information for the University Chaplains can be found here. Whitely also recommends that students feel free to reach her office at 305-284-4922.

January 13, 2015

Reporters

Jackie Yang

Jackie Yang can be reached via email at jyang@themiamihurricane.com.


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