Johnathan Christian Smith, a member of the Class of 2019, died at home in Trinidad following a cancer diagnosis, the University announced on Wednesday.
The University's notification, attributed to Vice Provost for University Life Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum, said Smith "was a Mechanical Engineering major as well as a thoughtful and passionate visual artist."
During the summer of 2016, while preparing for his first solo art exhibition, “Kyrie,” Johnathan was diagnosed with embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer. Johnathan went on a medical leave of absence from Penn for 10 months and died at 11:15 a.m. on July 27. He was 21 years old.
According to the email, he was involved in the Trinidad and Tobago Art Society and part of the Caribbean student community. He lived in Gregory College House as a student.
Johnathan was the only child of parents Hayden and Anna Smith, who are both artists.
“Johnathan’s love for art began as a child,” Smith’s father said. “Before he could even write, he would draw airplanes.
“I think he got his love for art, a little bit, from both of us, but he developed his own unique style,” the elder Smith added. “He loved painting in monochrome. He had a way of making a black-and-white image have such depth.”
His parents also said Smith liked to illustrate nature, especially clouds and water. On his website, he wrote, “There's a reason I paint so much water (in all forms) and clouds … it's because they represent a fixed moment in time for life in motion.”
While preparing to begin his first year at Penn in 2015, Smith also prepared for his first joint art exhibition with his father at the Art Society of Trinidad and Tobago titled, “Elementary.” Smith asked to be excused from the first day of the Penn Pre-Freshman Program to attend the opening of his own exhibition.
“Johnathan left after his opening and did not sleep. He went straight away to pack and catch his flight to Philadelphia … such a passion he had for what he was doing,” his father said.
“He loved his art and he loved his school, the University of Pennsylvania,” his mother added. “He wanted the best of both worlds there.”
Besides art, Smith’s interests included classical music, "Star Trek" and the 1980s American sitcom, "The Golden Girls," his parents said in the University’s statement.
Smith’s parents said he was able to transition smoothly into Penn because of his positive spirit. “Transitioning from Trinidad to studying in Pennsylvania was just another adventure for him. That’s how he treated life: everything as a new adventure,” Smith’s mother said.
His parents also noted the profound impact he had on his friends.
“A lot of students primarily focus on academics,” his mother said. “Johnathan showed them that you have to take a break and enjoy the moment as well … he would take time to paint, go to the museum, go to the movies and still study.”
Rising Wharton junior and Under The Button staff writer Alessandro Consuelos was Johnathan’s roommate in Gregory College House.
“He was my first friend at Penn. I love him like a brother and I could not have had better luck with our pairing together as roommates,” Consuelos said. “He was an absolutely amazing artist and an even more amazing person. I missed him a lot during his leave last year and I will miss him greatly in the years to come.”
Consuelos and Smith were randomly assigned to live together. “We didn't seek each other out. It was just luck. And I can't believe how lucky I am to have known him.”
Rising Engineering junior Chase Rapine became friends with Johnathan during New Student Orientation. Rapine recalled one day when he spent over three hours with Johnathan outside during a snowstorm. This was the first time Johnathan had ever seen snow.
“I couldn't understand why he wanted to spend so much time out in the horrible weather,” Rapine said. “But once he showed me the pictures he took, I was truly impressed. His love of art was ingrained in him; he was able to see the beauty in things that so many of us take for granted each day.”
The Smith family would like to thank the Penn community for its support during this difficult time.
“I have been receiving quite a few messages from people I’ve never met before, but whose hearts Johnathan has touched,” his father said
This is a developing story and was last updated at 10:50 p.m. on Aug. 2. If you have any stories or memories you wish to share about Johnathan, please contact Executive Editor Dan Spinelli at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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