A Reflection by Fr. Terry Charlton
From the news items on Fox News or on ABC or from the interview of one of his colleagues from Georgetown University on CNN or from our own School of Hope website, you might already be aware of the tragic death of Cedric Asiavugwa, who was a passenger on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 which crashed on March 10. Only thirty-two years old at this death, Cedric was involved in founding the Associate Board of the School of Hope Foundation, was the foundation’s Director of Social Media and a Member of the main Board of the School of Hope Foundation, our only youthful member, chosen because of his special gifts and commitment to St. Aloysius.
The best way for me to remember Cedric and to share about him is from my personal perspective. I first met Cedric in 2005 when he began to think about being a Jesuit right after he finished high school since I was then Jesuit Vocation Director in Kenya. I came to know Cedric as a very gifted young man who was already beginning to hone his energies on a commitment to serving God and neighbor, which gradually came to center on a passion for social justice. Over the years, our relationship gradually grew from my relating to him as a mentor to a deep friendship. We shared much in common from similar world views to enjoyment of James Patterson’s Alex Cross novels. We grieved together when it became clear in 2015 that his vocation was no longer with the Jesuits.
Cedric had always been very encouraging in my work with St. Aloysius. Simply in the context of what was going on at St. Al’s, I shared with Cedric that we were going to advertise for the position of Assistant Director of Development for St. Al’s. Since he was leaving the Jesuits and needed a job, he said, “I could apply for that, and I have some good experience in some aspects of the position.” I was not involved in the interview process, but those on the committee decided that Cedric was the one for the job. He committed himself and especially worked well with the students in getting to know them by helping them in writing their letters to sponsors. He shared his own passion for writing by working with students in the Journalism Club by helping them develop their writing skills.
Soon after leaving the Jesuits, Cedric met Linet, who became his soulmate, his wife and eventual mother of their son, Jabali. It was a great pleasure to see this relationship grow over the last four years. While still a Jesuit, in pursuit of his passion for social justice, Cedric had begun to think of becoming a lawyer and was even encouraged to think in this direction by his Jesuit provincial. He believed that Georgetown University was the place for him to pursue his J.D. degree. It has a top-ranked Law School; and, as a Jesuit University, it pursues the value of social justice that Cedric was committed to. Once accepted, Cedric’s challenge was how to put together the means to be able to afford the tuition (over and above the partial scholarship he was initially awarded) as well as his living expenses. Among other means, Cedric applied to become a Dorm Chaplain to undergraduates at Georgetown University and was accepted for this position. Eventually, Cedric was nominated for and was awarded a very competitive Arrupe Scholarship, which covered all his tuition and living expenses. I told Cedric, “Well, now you will be able to drop being a dorm chaplain and focus on your studies.” I was somewhat amazed and certainly heartened when Cedric replied, “No, I’m going to do this work because it is valuable and a way I can support students in their growth.”
Cedric hit the ground running when he landed in Washington, D.C., in late July, 2016. It is now clear that none of us knew all that Cedric was involved in, but just his investment in his law studies and otherwise at Georgetown as well as in helping with fundraising for St. Al’s would overwhelm most of us. Cedric said to me, “I want to give all I can to help the very needy students at St. Al’s. Education in not only their way out of poverty, but it is also the basis for their being able to live productive and giving lives for others.”
Cedric had alerted me that he was making a special trip back to Kenya because of the sudden death of the mother of his wife, Linet; and I agreed to pick him up at the airport. It was devastating gradually to recognize that Cedric was scheduled to arrive on the flight that had crashed shortly after take-off from Addis Ababa. It fell to me initially to break the news that morning to Linet even thought it was only toward the end of the day that we were formally informed by the airport authority that Cedric, indeed, had been on the flight.
The loss of a close friend so young, a person who had accomplished so much with so much more potential is especially difficult. Along with members of his family and friends, I was greatly blessed to be able to interact with so many who knew Cedric in a great variety of ways. Especially important points in this journey were to be able to be involved in funeral masses for Cedric in Nairobi on March 21 and at Cedric’s parents’ home near Kitale on March 23.
I want to close by speaking about an extraordinary memorial organized by Georgetown Law on April 29 in recognition of Cedric. Linet and Jabali, Cedric’s parents, three brothers, and I were invited to come to Washington for a week. We had many opportunities to meet various colleagues, friends, fellow students and professors of Cedric and to learn all he meant to them. There was a mass for Cedric in the university chapel, and I was invited to give the homily; I emphasized that Cedric was a Christian, who in word and deed proclaimed the power of this New Life in the risen Jesus (Acts,5:20).. The highlight of our time in Washington was the memorial service for Cedric. Fourteen of us were invited to speak. Many of the speakers were Cedric’s fellow students. One after another each spoke both of how Cedric touched him or her by giving support in a time of crisis or personal challenge and of the inspiration arising from Cedric’s commitment to social justice. I and many others were struck by the sharing of Cedric’s professor of a course in Arbitration and Negotiations because almost none of us knew about what she shared, which was one more example of Cedric’s humility in quietly engaging himself for others without letting even close friends know. The professor shared how she was looking for someone to help her share the skills of the course in a non-academic class she was going to give at a woman’s shelter in Washington. She decided that Cedric could do the best job, and he agreed to team-teach with her. Despite most of these women not having much use for the male gender of the human race, Cedric was able to rise to the occasion and, according to his professor, greatly contribute to providing these women with the negotiating skills which could make a great difference in their future life.
After the memorial service, we moved outside and planted a cherry tree at the center of the Law campus. It is a consolation to know that there is living memorial to Cedric that will bloom with cherry blossoms every spring and then bear fruit. It is even more consoling to know that the many who have known Cedric will strive in some way to imitate what he stood for in the way we live our lives. I close with the words of the memorial plaque fixed near the cherry tree.