Over a hundred students, faculty, administrators, and family members gathered on the steps of Low Library Monday evening to honor the life of engineering student Eric Harms, a first-year whose influence on Columbia, colleagues said, would far outlast his time spent here.
Harms’s colleagues congregated in front of a slideshow projecting photographs of Harms set to some of his favorite jazz music. Students distributed Columbia blue ribbons as well as candles for a silent vigil later in the evening. As students lined up at a microphone to share memories of their classmate, the broad cross-section of campus life represented in the speakers—Engineering Student Council members, Columbia Urban Experience participants, fraternity brothers, music enthusiasts, Living Learning Community residents—recalled a person who never limited himself to a singular field and threw himself wholeheartedly into every endeavor.
“All of us were aware of how much Eric was involved [in campus life] ... but being here and seeing all of these people that I’ve never seen before, it really made the scope of his involvement clear,” Matthew Lewis, SEAS ’12 and Harms’s floormate said. “It made me aware of how exceptional he was in being able to reach out and touch so many people in the way he did.”
“He proved to be an amazing friend to me, a constant presence despite whether he was present or not,” one student said, echoing the sentiments of many of the night’s speakers—that Harms exuded a kind of energy that lingered long after he left the room.
Students leading the memorial marked the specific time to begin, 8:07 p.m., in honor of Harms’s Aug. 7 birthday. Friends also recalled his love of Latin by reading from Cicero, Harms’s favorite author, in the original language.
“In planning the service, we thought about every aspect of how to best represent Eric in each portion,” Freesia Levine, BC ’11 and one of the leaders in Monday’s memorial said. “I guess being there for each other and supporting each other, that’s the best thing we can do for each other right now.”
If Harms’s friends came from all areas of campus to share a diversity of experiences with their classmate, they almost never failed to touch on one of his most distinguishing features, his hair, cited by many as the first thing they noticed about him. He used his distinct red mane as an icebreaker, people said, emblematic of his ability to put everyone immediately at ease. Harms’s older sister told of him accidentally catching bugs with it as a kid.
As colleagues painted a picture of Harms’s time on campus—a Gateway enthusiast who could be found playing Gershwin in lounges, the wildcard candidate on a first-year ESC platform who proved vital to the ticket’s spirit—his family provided a window into his time off campus.
Harms’s parents and sisters, in town from Minnesota, spoke of how much Eric loved all the people who convened in his memory Monday evening. His friends and classmates were a constant source of conversation when he was home. His sisters took turns reading from a poem he wrote, titled “Dinner with Friends.”
Kim Harms, Eric’s mother, entreated his fellow students to seek support if they ever found themselves contemplating suicide. Harms’s father, Jim, said that while he could not quite understand his son’s death, and perhaps never would, he would adopt one of Harms’s mannerisms in his place—by taking off his coat in the nearly freezing weather and declaring it “balmy.”
“Eric thrived at Columbia,” Harms’s father said. Eric, he said, was the model son, full of warmth and good humor, excelling at jazz and academics and always stealing the show at school productions. He held to his faith, a belief his father urged students to fall back on while grieving.
The Harmses recently held a funeral for their son at home. A thousand people came to pay their respects.