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Continuing to remember
Bench installed before memorial game to preserve Jackie Gray’s memory
On Saturday, Oct. 8, approximately 50 members of the Quinnipiac community and about 30 members of Jacqueline Gray’s family gathered by the tower at Sleeping Giant State Park to unveil a bench commemorating Gray’s memory.
They planned the unveiling of the bench to coincide with the memorial game in Jackie’s honor, which took place Saturday night. Cameron Burbank, a sophomore entrepreneurship major, coordinated the bench project.
“It was something that I kind of wanted to do for a couple of reasons,” Burbank said. “It’s always nice to have something material, not just for yourself, but for everybody else. Having something like a bench really allows people to come together.”
On July 4, 2016, Gray passed away as a result of injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident, according to a statement from Vice President and Dean of Students Monique Drucker.
At first, the project was small and Burbank’s GoFundMe page aimed to raise $600 for a simple, one person bench. The project grew quickly, however, which Burbank believes is a testament to Jackie’s impact on those around her. They ended up with $2,425 in donations.
With a surplus of funding, the project was upgraded from a small bench with a small plaque to a bigger bench with a backrest and a full engraving. However, the process to actually make this a reality was quite long.
“It started out getting some initial approvals,” Burbank said. “I initially laid out a couple of spots that I was comfortable with, and the first choice was Sleeping Giant. We wanted to put it somewhere to make it a destination, which is nice.”
Since Sleeping Giant is a state park, Burbank had some trouble securing a spot and getting approval for a full scale engraving. Overall, he said that the organizations involved were very accommodating, especially since they wanted to have the bench ready by Oct. 8.
“The granite company was nice enough to expedite the order, Quinnipiac sent one of their trucks to go pick it up, and Lowe’s and Home Depot donated a bunch of materials to make the concrete slab base underneath, that way it never moves,” Burbank said. “The parks were also very helpful with being flexible with their hours, driving me back and forth with all my materials.”
When the time came for Gray’s loved ones to gather at the unveiling of the bench, the scene was powerful. Senior nursing major Gabrielle Swan is a member of the IceCats team who was present at the unveiling.
“It was a lot,” Swan said. “Very emotional for everyone, but honestly, [Burbank] did an amazing job and I think her family was speechless at how amazing it was, how many people had come to be a part of it and it was just so great.”
Taylor Chelo, a senior English major, is also a member of the IceCats who believes this was an incredible opportunity to see the community come together and remember Gray.
“The higher we go and the more we focus on the positive things she’s left us, we get higher up the mountain and we get closer to heaven in that way,” Chelo said. “So I think it was a beautiful way that it was placed on the mountain, for that reason. It was this symbolic thing, this reflection that I had as I was going up and I really loved the location it ended up being at.”
The day culminated at the memorial hockey game, where the Quinnipiac community honored Gray’s legacy.
“It just never dawned on us, especially since she was a first year member, how big of an impact she would have on our team,” Chelo said. “She taught us leadership skills, she taught us that even though you’re a first-year member of a team doesn’t mean you can’t contribute to new ideas and the growth of the team. We wanted everyone to know that, and I think the new members are really taking that in stride with finding their place on the team.”
The ceremony began when the IceCats took their customary places on the ice before the game. The announcers said some words of tribute about Gray, accompanied by pictures of her displayed on the jumbotron. There was also a spotlight on the ice where Gray would have been standing. Her parents brought Gray’s skates, filled with purple flowers, and placed them on the platform with the IceCats as a video of the girls each saying something about Gray played overhead. Because purple was Gray’s favorite color, the coaches of both teams wore purple ribbons, the hockey players had purple tape on their sticks and the IceCats all donned purple armbands as a another tribute.
“So, no matter what time it was during the game, it was almost like she was with us,” Chelo said. “Whether it was the spotlight where she would be or the skates on the stage, she was always constantly with us. Even though she’s physically left us, she’ll never spiritually leave us at all.”
At the end of the day, it was all about making sure that the community had a chance to remember Gray and all that she has done for those whose lives she has touched. It was also about giving back to Gray’s family and showing them how much she was appreciated at Quinnipiac.
“Just seeing the family afterward, too, you could tell that they not necessarily found closure, but you could tell that seeing all this community come together just for her really put them at ease a little bit more,” Chelo said. “Whatever we can do as a community to do that for them is what we’re really aiming for I think.”