December 9, 2022
Ithaca, NY | 33°F


Commentary: Father responds to daughter’s death with pledge

Victoria … what a beautiful name. It was delightfully easy for my wife and me to choose this name for our beloved daughter. The years seemed like days as Victoria grew from an infant to a college freshman in front of our eyes. Victoria entered Ithaca College in August 2010. She was full of life and energy, cheerful and beautiful, and had brought much joy to my wife and me. If you had ever seen her, you might even think that she was walking in midair. We still remember vividly her exuberant voice as she spoke with my wife on the phone that cold Friday night in February: “I love you too mom, bye.”

Joseph Cheng

She was an intelligent pre-med student, and was on her way to becoming a great surgeon someday. But her dream was dashed by one night of drinking. Something happened to Victoria after a party that Friday night. Words cannot describe our feelings when two officers came to our house to inform us that Victoria was found lying on the snow not far from the house where the party was. Alcohol use was related to her passing.

Victoria was well aware of the safety issues regarding alcohol. She said she knew her limit, that she would not drink and drive, that she would not walk alone. What I have learned from my daughter is that no matter how knowledgeable a person might be, something can always go wrong. Victoria once said that if she did not drink, she would not have any friends. But true friendship should evolve around loving and caring for one another, not drinking.

Though Victoria did not make it to her 18th birthday in this world, many of her friends came to our home that day to celebrate the time they had shared with her. My family still thinks of Victoria every day, as do many of her friends. What attracted her to so many friends was neither her cheerful personality nor her physical beauty; it was her willingness to help others.

If she were here right now, she would say this to you: “Please, please, please learn from my mistake. If you learn from my mistake, then my death will not be in vain.” As the semester and the parties begin, I challenge you with this question: Are you going to live this semester as usual or are you going to change from a culture-follower to a culture-changer? I would like to invite you to become a culture-changer by making the Victoria Pledge, an online pledge to abstain from alcohol until 21.

This could be a sacrifice because you might miss out on something, but there is something else far greater worth fighting for in life. When you learn that more undergraduate students will ultimately die from alcohol-related causes than those who will go on to receive masters and Ph.D. degrees, you might pause and think it over. You might say, “This is the culture. There is not much I can do.” Or you can say, “This is tragic. I am willing to make a sacrifice to help change the culture.”

Victoria Cheng (far right) and two friends blueberry picking last summer. Cheng, who passed away in February, was a 2010 graduate of Ithaca High School and a biology major at Ithaca College. COURTESY OF JOSEPH CHENG

Your sacrifice will make this world a better place by helping to change the drinking culture that is ruining the lives of so many young people. And who knows — the life you change, or even save, might be your own. The Victoria Pledge is neither about Victoria nor my family, but about your future and our world. The culture can be changed, one person at a time, starting with ourselves.

To make the Victoria Pledge, visit

Joseph Cheng  is an associate professor of finance and international business. Email him at