A large crowd of students gathered last night for a candlelight vigil on College Green to remember the life of Wharton junior Olivia Kong.
Kong died Monday morning at the 40th Street Station on SEPTA’s Market-Frankford line, according to an email sent to undergraduates by Provost Vincent Price and President Amy Gutmann at 2:22 p.m. She was described in the email as “a bright, well-liked and successful member of our junior class.” On Tuesday, the Philadelphia Medical Examiner's office confirmed that Kong's death was ruled a suicide.
Kong was identified in an email sent to Wharton undergraduates by Wharton Vice Dean Lori Rosenkopf. Her name was not released in the original email sent to all undergraduates.
The incident happened at 6:59 a.m. on Monday while a train was moving eastbound toward 40th Street, SEPTA Youth Advisory Executive Chair and Wharton and Engineering senior Jeff Kessler said.
Rosenkopf’s email described her death as the result of an accident.
But even at the time, Chief of SEPTA Police Thomas Nestel said on Monday that early reports “point to a suicide.”
The University has been in contact with the student’s family, according to Gutmann and Price’s email. A “gathering of sharing and support” was held for Kong at 5 p.m. in Huntsman Hall Room 250.
Kong was a member of Phi Gamma Nu business fraternity and Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity. She studied abroad at the University of Melbourne in Australia last fall and lived in Rodin College House, Rosenkopf’s email said.
At the vigil, attendees stood in silence as students spoke to remember Kong’s life. The Penn Glee Club performed “Amazing Grace.”
Even after the event was over, students remained, standing in silence. After more than a minute, the Glee Club performed a second song, “Afterglow”, after which students began to disperse.
Engineering junior Ahmed Mohieldin organized the vigil, though he did not know Kong personally. “It just struck a chord with me,” Mohieldin said of his motivation for organizing the event. “I wish I had a better reason than that, but I don’t.”
One of Kong’s friends, Engineering and Wharton senior Calvin Nguyen, spoke in her memory. He described meeting Kong at the Student Federal Credit Union, and remembered her for her “fierce and sassy” demeanor.
“So many people have come out in support... if you’re here, it’s safe to say that she has touched you in some way,” he said.
“From dark days to light days, Olivia, you have been a part of our lives,” he added.
Wharton junior Terry Lin remembered Kong in a Facebook post he shared on her wall. “I’m honestly not regretful for any of memories shared... And that influence will always stay. Thank you for your friendship,” Lin wrote.
The Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity released a statement about Kong’s death as well. “Our community is still reeling from the news about Olivia. A member of our brotherhood for three semesters, Olivia exemplified the principles of Alpha Phi Omega. She was actively engaged in service with the Philadelphia community and was always willing to offer a smile or hand of friendship to her peers. She brightened our days and will be dearly missed.”
University Chaplain Chaz Howard also spoke at the vigil. “This has been a very hard day. It’s been a sad day. It hurts. And it doesn’t make sense,” he said.
“But you’re doing the right thing now. We need to come together and stand with each other. And I truly believe this is the best of Penn,” he added.
At the beginning of the vigil, students were urged to gather closer so they could hear the speakers. Howard said that the sentiment expressed by that gesture is what he would take away from the vigil.
“When you got here tonight, the first words you heard were take a few steps in so we can hear each other, and I think that’s the charge I’m taking with me tonight,” he said.
“In these dark days, we all need to remember to take a few steps closer so we can hear each other.”
The Division of Public Safety deferred comment to the Office of University Communications. Vice President for University Communications Steve MacCarthy referred to the email sent to Wharton undergraduates in response to a request for comment.
Staff reporter Charlotte Laracy contributed reporting.
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