Penn students and faculty were joined by community and family friends to honor the life of College freshman William Steinberg, 18, who died in a fatal plane crash on Dec. 31 at a memorial service in Houston Hall on Jan. 9.
Along with his parents, Bruce and Irene, and his two brothers, Matthew and Zachary, Steinberg was one of 10 American tourists who died in the crash while traveling in the resort town of Punta Islita to San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. The New York Times reported that San Jose was the family’s final destination before returning home to Scarsdale, N.Y.
Steinberg was the eighth Penn student to die in 2017, two weeks after the death of a Penn Dental Departmental Chair Ricardo Teles.
The memorial was planned by close friends and family members, University Chaplain Charles Howard, staff at Counseling and Psychological Services, Penn Student Intervention Services, and rabbis from Penn’s Chabad and Hillel Houses.
“I think the grief of the loss is overwhelming," Howard said.
The Class Board of 2021 notified all freshmen about Steinberg’s death in an email message sent on Jan. 1. The University notified all Penn undergraduates on Jan. 2. The class board and Penn Hillel sent emails to some members of the Penn community detailing the memorial service on Jan. 7 and 8, respectively.
During the memorial, four friends, Engineering freshman Ben Robinov, College freshman Dani Bergman, and Wharton and Engineering freshmen Robert Epstein and Dylan Diamond, shared memories of Steinberg, including experiences from the pre-orientation program PennQuest and the Research, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship Residential Program in Ware College House.
Howard said Epstein, who is also a Scarsdale resident, was one of the first students to contact the administration suggesting a memorial.
Epstein recounted several instances where Steinberg was “good to complete strangers and [to] people he never met.”
Steinberg's roommate, Diamond, reflected on Steinberg’s political awareness, altruism, and humility.
“I most remember him for his modesty. He had so many gifts — his personality, family, intelligence, and ability to understand people — yet his focus was always on you,” Diamond said during the memorial. “He was very selfless and thought of others a lot, he never put himself first.”
Diamond, along with other friends of Steinberg, said he felt motivated to “carry on his work in the world.”
“There’s this other way of processing our own grief and our loss, by serving, going out, and loving others and caring for the world and working for peace like Will did,” Howard said.
CAPS Deputy Director Michal Saraf said emotional support was available for grieving students and faculty. At the event, she encouraged them to reach out for help or give support during this difficult time.
Steinberg’s resident advisor, College and Wharton junior Ryan Leone, said it has been difficult for his residents to come to terms with the loss of a hallmate. He added that he hopes students will cope with the tragedy by asking themselves what Steinberg would want them to do.
“After any tragedy it’s impossible to be the same person in the aftermath, but I think people are able to get accustomed to the new emptiness that they might face,” Leone said. “Nobody who passes would want everyone around them to stop living their lives, and that definitely stands true for Will. He’d want everyone to keep being successful and doing the things that make them happy.”
In addition to a performance by Penn Glee Club members, Levi Haskelevich and Josh Bolton, two campus rabbis, recited prayers at the memorial. Sharon Smith, director of Student Intervention Services, presented a remembrance gift for Steinberg's extended family to Jill Goldstone, a close family friend.
“There is this aspect of hope and aspect of comfort when you see Will’s friends rise and honor him and share stories about him,” Howard said. “As painful a day like today is, there’s something very beautiful about it as well.”
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