Despite a steady rainfall and breezy springtime chill, University of New Hampshire (UNH) students, faculty and community members came together to remember the warm and radiant spirit of first-year student Aulbani “AJ” Beauregard, who died unexpectedly over winter break due to natural causes.
As Thompson Hall’s clock struck 4 p.m. on Friday, April 26, a crowd formed in Murkland Courtyard to celebrate Beauregard’s life and legacy. Members of Beauregard’s family were the last to enter the tent, carrying her ashes in an urn before some of them were spread amongst the newly-planted star magnolia tree in her honor.
Senior sociology and women’s studies major Elysa Caisey, a close friend of Beauregard’s, helped to plan the event after Beauregard’s family approached Dean Kirkpatrick with the idea. According to Caisey, it was an idea in the making for several months.
“Before AJ passed, she had said that if she were to ever pass away, she would want a tree of life planted to continue her legacy,” Caisey said. “Her family partnered with Dean Kirkpatrick to see if the tree was a possibility. After a lot of hard work, Dean Kirkpatrick said we would be able to plant a tree in honor of AJ.”
The proposed star magnolia tree planting was approved just before Beauregard’s celebration of life that occurred on January 23 in Huddleston Hall. With the approval, Caisey, junior biomedical science major Marceliz Tolentino and Residential Life Assistant Director Darnelle Bosquet-Fleurival set forth their plans to unveil the tree and a memorial plaque on the first day of Black Family Weekend.
In part because of her heavy involvement in campus groups and organizations such as the CONNECT Program, the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs (OMSA), Black Student Union (BSU), to name a few, a crowd of roughly 100 people came to honor her lasting impact during her brief yet extremely impactful time as a student.
After a few opening remarks from Caisey in which she highlighted the immortality of Beauregard’s legacy through the star magnolia tree, the microphone was handed off to Larry Brickner-Wood, executive director of the Waysmeet Center, who read a poem titled “We Remember You” by Rabbi Roland Gittelsohn. The poem, from the World War II-era, is one that Brickner-Wood stated he uses at memorials and gatherings of that type. Upon the completion of the poem, Brickner-Wood addressed the crowd regarding the atmosphere of the remembrance and of Beauregard’s legacy.
“The tenor of the day of the day is that something is missing. Someone is missing,” he said. “Aulbani, your loving light shines into us… loving us, holding us, embracing us.”
Following Brickner-Wood’s remarks, Dean of Students Ted Kirkpatrick carefully placed the dedicated plaque in front of the tree.
Taking over the microphone, Caisey then called for Beauregard’s family to come forward. In a deeply-moving sequence that generated tears from many in the crowd, her family members approached the tree and began to sprinkle some of her ashes into the soil- an affirmation of her lasting legacy and eternal association with the UNH community.
Exemplifying Beauregard’s impact on individuals within the university community, friends, faculty and community members were then invited to take turns shoveling soil into the hole containing the plant and her ashes after her family. Immediately after, stones messages written on them from Beauregard’s celebration of life were placed around the base of the tree by all in attendance. It was an idea that Caisey came up with immediately after Dean Kirkpatrick received the confirmation to go forth with the tree planting remembrance.
“I think the tree ceremony went amazing. I think despite the rain we did justice by AJ,” Caisey later recalled. “She was such an active member of the UNH community and in only one semester of her freshman year. She started to create change and her legacy rightfully should be on this campus.”
Several family members, friends and faculty members took turns to share stories of Beauregard with the crowd, creating laughter and joy amidst the sorrow-filled crowd. A few members of her family graciously took turns to thank everyone for their continued outpouring of support.
“There’s not a lot of kindness in this world, so this just means so much. Thank you all for continuing to celebrate her,” said one unidentifiable family member at the remembrance’s commencement.
After the 45-minute long ceremony, several prominent members of UNH’s community, all touched by the spirit of Beauregard in individually unique ways, took the time to reflect on her legacy.
“Aulbani embodied joy in life…. beauty, energy, love,” Kirkpatrick said. “The star magnolia will bloom each spring in the years ahead, growing taller, stronger and more beautiful with each passing year. That tree is life itself. Aulbani’s spirit is that tree, a memorial to love she shared so generously with others. It will always be with those who knew her and among those who never did. How fitting that Aulbani lives on in memory each time one passes that beautiful magnolia.”
Several members of UNH Residential Life celebrated the life of Beauregard on Friday. Anna Jantz, Residence Hall Director of Handler Hall (Beauregard’s home for her time as a student), was reminded of the pain she felt within her hall and herself after Beauregard’s passing. Yet, despite such suffering, she is finding positivity in the overwhelming feeling of love for Beauregard’s legacy.
“For me the ceremony was beautiful, however a deeply painful reminder of AJ’s passing. Something that really stood out to me was the number of students who I am still building connections with because of AJ. Through this hurt has come a strong community of people who loved and cared for AJ, I have met some truly remarkable students. I felt a powerful bond with others during the ceremony and I know that was the best way to honor AJ,” she said.
When asked about the emotions felt regarding losing such a renowned person of color on campus, Bosquet-Fleurival shared some anecdotes about her interactions with Beauregard, with some occurring at BSU and NALA, a support group for women of color on campus.
“She showed her infectious personality, source of laughter, leadership, strive to connect underrepresented students to an affinity group that could help them succeed during their time at UNH, relatability, willingness to jump out of her comfort zone, respect for others, and so much more,” she said. “In those early moments, I was unaware of Aulbani’s story, all I knew was there was a first-year student with this large drive to succeed and extreme passion for inclusion, equity, and justice for all.”
In addition, Bosquet-Fleurival had high hopes of Beauregard applying to be a resident assistant (RA) for the 2019-20 academic year as she entered her sophomore year.
“Fast forward to the Black New England Conference, Aulbani was an employee for conference and catering during the Friday evening dinner. Ruth (Abelmann), the director of Residential Life, and I at moments watched Aulbani interact with peers, conference attendees and the keynote speaker,” she recalled. “Multiple times Ruth and I said back to one another, ‘this young person would be such a fantastic leader and RA.’ At the end of the conference, I called out to Aulbani, where Ruth and I formally introduced ourselves and urged Aulbani to apply to be an RA.”
In addition to the tree planting being a part of Black Family Weekend, Caisey noted how she, Tolentino and Bosquet-Fleurival decided to present Beauregard with the Sean McGhee Award at the opening dinner later that evening. McGhee, the director of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, instilled principles in the community that Beauregard consistently practiced, according to Caisey.
“AJ was excelling in her academics and active in the community. AJ was motivated, resilient, enthusiastic, engaged, passionate and generous. AJ not only listened – she also spoke. She spoke about her experience, she spoke about helping others and she spoke to give a voice to those who did not have one. AJ preached about forgiveness, redemption and making it through tough situations,” she said of her late friend, a described “little sister” of sorts.
Many of those closest to her have attested to the fact that Beauregard spent lots of time in the Murkland Courtyard, a spot she came to love in her time as a Wildcat. The plaque placed in front of the star magnolia tree reads, “This Star Magnolia is lovingly dedicated in her memory by UNH students, faculty, staff, family and friends in honor of her deep commitment to this world.”
“Judging from all her celebrations of life, she touched so many people,” Caisey concluded. “That’s why she meant so much to this campus because she touched so many people. She was dedicated to her studies, making change and the people she cared about. She was truly something special and it wouldn’t make sense if no one showed up to celebrate her life and all she has done.”