USC holds memorial service for slain USC professor in Russell House Theater
Late USC professor Jennifer Wilson’s landscaper once said about her, “I’m a Christian, and I’m not saying that I’m perfect or anything, but I believe that Jen touched my life for a reason. I don’t believe it was an accident that I was allowed to get to know her.”
That seemed to be the consensus of those who attended Wilson’s memorial service in a crowded Russell House Theatre Friday afternoon. Media were invited to the event, but it was not publicized to students due to a lack of space.
David Virtue, associate professor of instruction and teacher education, told the tale of Wilson’s landscaper. It really hit home the point that every speaker was trying to make: Even if you only met Wilson once, she would touch your life.
“Since Sunday, several people from inside and outside our community have asked whether I knew Jennifer, and my response is if you stopped by the College of Education a couple of times in the past six years that she has been here, it would be impossible not to know her,” said USC Provost Michael Amiridis.
“She was one of these very gifted individuals who brightened the room with her contagious smile, enthusiasm and positive and exciting statements, and had passion and pride in the academic world and vision,” Amiridis continued. “She was intelligent, productive and extremely dedicated as a professional.”
But Wilson seemed to be equally as impressive when she was outside the classroom. Virtue chronicled how Wilson brought his wife food in the delivery room after the birth of all of his children, and he fought back the tears telling everyone about how his son, James-Ryan, said his favorite part of visiting Holland was the canal boat ride with “Aunt Jenny” when she went to visit.
Once, when asked what her colleagues should do with their classes the next day, Wilson responded saying, “Save the world!”
She seems to have tried to stick to that conviction by starting a non-profit, “A Chance Through Literacy,” to help talented yet poverty-stricken children in North America and around the world surmount obstacles to a formal education, according to www.achancethroughliteracy.org.
The mood in the room was all not somber. Tears were shed, but the room erupted in laughter numerous times in what seemed to be a reflection of Wilson’s upbeat personality.
“A part of Jen has left us—and it’s a part that we’ll all miss,” Virtue said. “It’s one that we’re all really, really struggling with and that is her physical presence: Her laugh, her energy, her enthusiasm, her dark curly hair, her fabulous shoes, all those things that make Jen, Jen. But those were not the parts of her identity that she valued the most.”
“What I believe Jen felt was most important about her was the influence she had on her students. The way she helped kids learn to love learning,” Virtue continued. “The way she helped her students here at USC become great teachers. She insisted that you become great teachers. And that part of Jen is still very much alive. It’s still with us. And it will continue to be. If you want to honor Jen’s memory, get out there and teach and learn and live with everything you’ve got. That’s what Jen would want.”
Donations can be made in Wilson’s name at www.achancethroughliteracy.org or by mail at A Chance Through Literacy, PO Box 50362, Columbia, SC 29250.