More than 100 members of the campus community attended a vigil held Dec. 3 in Muller Chapel in memory of Ithaca College junior Michael Clark, who died in a car accident Dec. 1 on Route 88 near Cobleskill, N.Y.
According to the New York State Police, the crash occurred when Clark swerved the 2002 Santa Fe vehicle to avoid hitting a deer. Clark, 21, was a junior English major from Boxborough, Mass. Three other students injured in the crash were transported to the Albany Medical Center for treatment after the accident.
The memorial service opened with Marisa Kelly, provost and vice president for educational affairs, giving updates on the conditions of the survivors.
She said sophomore Christopher Rose, one of the injured students, had been released from the hospital, while juniors Ezra Chamberlain and Melanie Pond continue to receive treatment. She said Pond suffered fractures to her vertebra with no apparent spinal cord injury and is expected to be released by Christmas after surgery. Information about Chamberlain’s condition has not been made public.
Senior Kelly Kane, a friend of the three survivors who was with them in Albany, said via email that Chamberlain and Pond are expected to recover completely.
“Melanie and Ezra are both as well as can be expected,” she said. “They are both in reasonably good spirits, and we had the chance to talk to them both again [on Dec. 3]. Although they are both going to need some more recovery time before they can return to school, they are both expected to recover fully from their injuries.”
Rory Rothman, senior associate vice president of student affairs and campus life; faculty and staff members; students who took classes with Clark; and fellow members of the college’s speech and debate team were among those present at the memorial. Many shared their favorite memories of Clark, with several pointing out Clark’s love for the work of William Shakespeare and Clark’s smooth and distinct voice, which friends said made everything sound like music.
Kelly read a note written by Clark’s family, expressing gratitude to the college community.
“We have received some wonderful letters from faculty letting us know that our dear, shy boy had made himself known at IC,” the note said. “Michael was happy and successful at Ithaca. He loved his classes, the poetry and literature that he read and studied.”
Sophomore Natalie Dionne, who took Analysis and Performance of Literature with Clark last year, said the news of his death made her think of his voice, which she said matched his warm personality.
“Michael would strut up to the class and stood in front of the class in a way that only Michael would walk, button-down tucked into jeans, and I would just sit there with my eyes closed and listen to him talk,” she said.
Chris Holmes, assistant professor of English and one of Clark’s professors this semester, said Clark had told him before Thanksgiving break that he had plans to apply for a doctoral program.
“I normally dissuade students because of the long study period and lack of job prospects,” Holmes said. “But when Michael said that he is interested, I thought that there was no student that I would want more to carry on with studies … I regret that I will not know him as a colleague, which I am assured would have happened.”
Clark, who began his college career as an exploratory student, declared his English major this year. Chris Matusiak, assistant professor of English and Clark’s academic adviser, said Clark was a standout student who was respected by his peers.
“Students always recognized that his sharp ideas were shaping the conversation and debate in class,” Matusiak said. “He was very influential in that way.”
Matusiak said Clark was an Anglophile, a person passionate about English literature.
“When he got back [from break], he and I had plans to work on an honors thesis together,” Matusiak said. “He was going to write a thesis about Shakespeare and the early modern English language.”
Matusiak also said his advisee had been accepted to study at the college’s London Center for next semester.
“He was very excited,” Matusiak said. “He had not been there before. He was keen to actually start research in the British Library on his project … and attend a play or two at the Globe Theatre.”
Holmes said Clark had a seriousness and a scholarly way that was rare in undergraduates. He said Clark had been unprepared for class just once in two semesters.
“It was clear that whatever the assignment was, he hadn’t read for that day,” Holmes said. “He was never quiet in class, and he was quiet that day. The day after, he came to my office and handed me a handwritten note of apology for not being prepared. Students are unprepared all the time. I don’t know if I have ever received an apology, let alone a handwritten one.”
Clark had been recently inducted to the college’s chapter of Sigma Tau Delta English Honor Society. He was also a prolific member of the speech and debate team, earning accolades and honors for the college.
Sophomore Wahid Khan was Clark’s partner on the debate team and participated in five tournaments with him.
“We bonded over a bunch of things, but we had our differences,” Khan said. “We bonded over British television, ‘Doctor Who’ and such. We differed in terms of political views … it was a beautiful experience getting to know him.”
Holmes said Clark always respected his peers, even if he did not agree with them.
“He would take what they said seriously,” Holmes said. “I already miss him deeply … He left a great and abiding memory at Ithaca.”