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Pioneers Remembered honors lost TWU community members

Like most college campuses, Texas Woman’s University has not been immune to the loss of community members, but a program on campus is ensuring Pioneers who are gone are not forgotten.

TWU’s Office of Civility and Community Standards will host the fourth annual Pioneers Remembered ceremony Thursday, April 11, from 1 to 2 p.m. in the Little Chapel in the Woods sanctuary. A memorial for TWU community members that have passed away within the previous year, Pioneers Remembered is held every spring to give friends and loved ones an opportunity to share in remembrance.

Michelle Reeves, former director of the Office of Civility and interim director of TWU’s Health and Wellbeing Initiative, said the idea for the ceremony evolved from the university’s history of compassion.

“It was actually originally an idea from Kyle Voyles, who was the former director for the Office of Civility and Community Standards,” Reeves said. “There are other institutions that do different versions of this, but it was just the idea that TWU really does historically have such a culture of caring. This was a way to create a tradition that really touched on something that is deeply personal to people [and] to recognize the humanness of that, no matter what your role is in the TWU community.”

While the program recognizes all students, faculty and staff that have passed in the previous year, retired faculty or staff and alumni are considered on a case-by-case basis.

“We have a portion of the ceremony that’s open and dedicated to all alumni or retired faculty and staff that may have passed, but we deliberately focus on the students, faculty and staff who have passed in that calendar year,” Reeves said.

Reeves said that, while the university does reach out to the family members of those that will be honored, it is ultimately up to them if they want to participate in the ceremony.

“We recognize the TWU community who’ve been impacted [and] we regularly reach out to the families as a way to see if they would like to participate, but that participation is completely voluntary,” Reeves said. “Everyone mourns and processes things differently, and so we have had families who have opted not to participate, but they will send us a note [of appreciation], and then we will have other families that become deeply involved not only in our ceremony, but oftentimes departments who’ve been impacted by this will do their own separate reception.”

Reeves said the university keeps the ceremonies simple to facilitate focus on remembrance.

“Typically, it’s opened up with Dr. Feyton who will just talk about the TWU community, followed by Dr. Monica Mendez-Grant who will also share some words from the Student Life perspective,” Reeves said. “Then what we’ve done is we create an arrangement that’s predominantly white and red roses, and we do that because TWU has traditional significance with the rose in terms of what it has meant to how we signify friendship to each other, and community. We’ll read off each of the names, and then we’ll have somebody who is representing that particular person come and symbolically place a rose in that arrangement as a way of saying that we’re all here together. That’s followed by a musical performance by our music department and a moment of silence and just some closing words. We try to keep the ceremony very simple and focused on those TWU community members we are honoring.”

Reeves said that this year organizers are adding in a reception after the ceremony to give attendees an opportunity to connect outside of the ceremony.

“This year, we’re going to add a component to it in that we are going to have a reception for those families and departments who want to spend some time kind of informally visit with each other afterward,” Reeves said. “What we have found is that there’s some real power in healing in the families being able to talk with faculty who worked in that same particular department or maybe meet some friends on campus that they never really got the chance to get to know, so the reception is a way for them to be able to do that.”

Program coordinators also arrange a Pioneers Remembered display featuring photos of those that were honored in the ceremony.

 “We’ll bring the flower arrangement, and that will stay there a few days, but what we try to do is ask the families and TWU community to submit pictures of the loved ones and put them in different frames,” Reeves said. “We will put pictures of each of the TWU community members that we’re honoring; sometimes those will include notes that family or friends will write about them or have notes by that so people can write back to them.”

The display will be in the second-floor lobby of the ACT for several weeks following the ceremony.

Reeves said Pioneers Remembered presents an opportunity to recognize the connections we share with one another, and she hopes it is making a positive impact on the TWU community.

“If we were going to add traditions to TWU, I think that this is a great way to do that because it reminds us that we all have different goals and paths and we all intersected differently with TWU, but we are all humans who develop connections with each other, and sometimes we lose those people,” Reeves said. “It’s a way for us to process that together, hopefully not in a mournful way, but it’s a way of celebrating that person.”

The reception for ceremony attendees will be held in Stoddard Hall lobby and will feature refreshments. Those interested in learning more about Pioneers Remembered can do so here.

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