Obituary: Sarah Longyear, sophomore, 19

Sarah Longyear
Sarah Longyear views the Pacific Ocean in Point Lobos, Calif.

Sophomore Sarah Longyear died by suicide April 22, 2016, in her hometown of Palo Alto, Calif. She was 19. 

Longyear’s advisers remembered her as a kind and curious student who excelled academically but struggled with depression. Longyear was on medical leave when she died.

“Sarah was bright, energetic, very curious,” said Matthew DeVoll, Longyear’s four-year adviser and assistant dean in Arts & Sciences. “I was just reading her sophomore reflection and to the question, ‘What is your most important hope for the upcoming year,’ she wrote in all caps, ‘LEARN. Don’t just rush or cram.’ Her mind was on fire.

“But she also experienced moments when she was intensely anxious. As successful as she was in the classroom, that wasn’t how she always felt as a person.”

Longyear was majoring in anthropology in Arts & Sciences with minors in design and marketing. This summer, she hoped to participate in the Pluralism, Politics and Religion Program in Paris with Carolyn Sargent, professor of anthropology and her adviser.

“She wanted to learn about other religions and immigration in Paris. She was full of excitement for what she would read and who she would meet,” Sargent said.

“She had this boundless interest and curiosity about, well, about everything.”

Sargent last saw Longyear in December during a visit to California. She had lunch with Sarah and her mother, Sally Longyear.

Sarah Longyear

“We spent the day together, and I was so impressed by the warm, loving relationship she had with her mom,” Sargent said. “Sarah was just very kind. That is not always something that a professor notices in a student. But she was so obviously a warm and generous person.”

Longyear was a member of Chi Omega sorority and a center for the junior varsity basketball team. She had hoped to use her marketing and design skills to boost participation in Red Alert, the student fan group. Women’s basketball coach Nancy Fahey said the Bear basketball family will miss that spirit.

“Sarah brought so much light and energy to our team,” Fahey said. “Her smile will be with us forever.”

Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton extended his sympathies to Longyear’s family in California as well as the family she built here.

“I know I join with the entire Washington University community in mourning the death of Sarah, someone so young and full of energy, intellectual curiosity and passion,” Wrighton said. “She touched the lives of many people during her short time here, and it will be this — her kindness toward and enabling of others — that will long be remembered by those who knew her well. That is the kind of lasting legacy toward which we should all strive.”

Wrighton encourages students who would like supportive counseling to contact Student Health Services at 314-935-6666. He said the university will gather to remember Longyear and celebrate her life. Details will be announced later. 

Suitemate Ellen Sheehy remembers the first time she met Longyear — it was in the Bed, Bath & Beyond parking lot, and Sheehy was nervous about navigating life away from home.

“I could not have been more shocked to receive a running hug from this girl I barely knew,” Sheehy said. “She made me feel comfortable right away. From that point on, we were always together. If you walked past our room, you probably saw us decorating our door or having a dance party.”

Fellow suitemate Natalie Edwards recalled how Longyear convinced the other 12 first-year students on their floor in Dardick House to dress up for the Bear Beginnings Floor Challenge. Despite their small numbers, they still won second place.

“We didn’t even know each other, and yet Sarah was the one rallying us all together,” Edwards said.

Longyear with her roommate
Longyear (right) with suitemate Ellen Sheehy. “She brought joy to everything around her,” Sheehy said.

“She did that for every event. She turned everything — every birthday, mandatory floor meeting, every basketball game — into an experience.”

Sargent said Longyear often talked about how much she loved her friends and being part of campus life.

“For someone who was only here a year-and-a-half, to have touched so many people all across this campus really speaks to what a kind person she was,” Sargent said. “I only wish she could have seen herself that way, that she could have experienced herself the way we all did.”

She is survived by her parents, Sally and Rick Longyear, and a brother, CJ Longyear.

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