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Community gathers to honor Dawkins’ life

A service was held to honor Michael Dawkins ’13.5, who passed away in Peru in October

Family, friends and members of the Brown community gathered to remember Michael Dawkins ’13.5 in a memorial service held in Manning Chapel Friday afternoon.

Professors and friends shared their stories with a small audience in the chapel, calling Dawkins an expert pianist, a brilliant student and a gracious friend.

“His life radiated from so many neighborhoods at Brown and far beyond,” said Janet Cooper Nelson, University chaplain, in an opening prayer.

Dawkins passed away last month in Peru and was last seen on campus a week before his death, The Herald previously reported. The circumstances of his death remain unknown, and investigations are ongoing.

Dawkins was raised in Baton Rouge, La., and came to Brown in fall 2008 to pursue a degree in Middle East studies. Osman Chaudhry ’13 MD’17 reflected on his first encounter with Dawkins during the fall of their first year — specifically, his impression of Dawkins’ “eccentric” patterned shorts.

But “what made Michael so eccentric was not his fashion but his sincerity,” Chaudhry said.

Chaudhry said the two were acquaintances during their undergraduate studies and that he came to appreciate “the contours of Michael’s personality.” They became good friends this past summer, he said, when Dawkins “crashed on (his) couch.”

Sohum Chatterjee ’14 said he did not prepare a speech for the service to reflect how he and Dawkins “always spoke spontaneously.” He added that when he was formulating his speech he could only come up with what he hated about Dawkins.

“I hated the way he played that piano so damn well,” Chatterjee said to laughs from the audience.

Though the two only met this past summer, they became fast friends, Chatterjee said. He said Dawkins could challenge a person’s beliefs with quiet confidence, adding that Dawkins was “the one who spoke the least and heard the most.”

“As a friend, it’s a great loss, because I would have loved to grow old with Michael,” Chatterjee said.

The service was interspersed with piano performances by students and professors in tribute to Dawkins’ talent as a musician. Audience members also had the opportunity to write brief remembrances of Dawkins on inserts in the service program, which were collected and read aloud by ushers at the end of the service.

Nearly everyone who spoke remarked that Dawkins, who Professor of Music Joseph Rovan said was also generous in his talent, was a beautiful pianist. Rovan noted that Dawkins could sight-read nearly any piece of music and often lent his musical abilities to accompany his peers.

“Through his musical support, he made others shine,” Rovan said. “He embodied the generosity and spirit that embodies the Brown community.”

Arlene Cole, adjunct lecturer in music, said that though she was his teacher for six years, she learned from him, as well, and their relationship “was more of a give and take.”

“Piano was his thing,” Cole said. “Michael was very special to us. We will all miss him.”

Nick Donias ’12 said he met Dawkins in the way many first-years get to know one another, by “wandering the halls of Keeney (Quadrangle).” He added that they initially connected through a shared love of “awful reality shows” but later became great friends by playing piano together.

Donias said Dawkins’ spirit would remain with him much like a well-played piano piece after it finishes. Though the song might be over, the notes do not leave the audience, he said, but remain, “echoing off of those walls.”


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