The sun set behind the clouds, peaking behind some trees. The air was cool, and cricket sounds could be heard over the whispers and quiet conversations of people standing in Dunn Meadow.
As more people made their way down the path in front of the Indiana Memorial Union to the meadow, volunteers handed out electric candles. Some people stopped by a basket of yellow and white flowers and picked up a few.
Two flowery wreaths sat at the front of a concrete stage area, with candles in front of them. A picture hung from each wreath. The captions under the pictures read, “In Memory of Joseph Smedley” and “In Memory of Yaolin Wang.”
Wednesday night’s vigil honored the lives of these two students. Yaolin was found dead in her apartment on Sept. 30 from apparent stab wounds, and Joseph’s body was discovered in Griffy Lake Oct. 2 after being reported missing earlier that week.
A nearby clock tower rang loudly, signaling the top of the hour. By that time, 7 p.m., the crowd had already grown larger.
Representatives from various campus organizations - including Counseling and Psychological Services, the IU Police Department, the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, and Sigma Pi, Joseph’s fraternity - shared messages of condolence to Joseph’s and Yaolin’s friends and families. Those that personally knew the students shared favorite memories.
Mark Rogers II, a member of Joseph’s class in the Groups Scholars Program, talked about the end of their class’s summer group experience, when a water fight broke out. Rogers chuckled when he recalled hitting Joseph with a water balloon from around a corner.
The last time he saw Joseph, Rogers said he told him, “see you around man, let’s stay in touch.” Rogers emphasized to the attendees the importance of cherishing moments that they have with one another.
“We must remember that we are all a community, connected by being members of the IU family,” he said.
That message of community and care continued throughout the one-hour ceremony.
“As we go about our busy lives and classes, we will take the time to say hello, to reach out to friends,” said Dean of Students Harold “Pete” Goldsmith. “If we resolve to do this, we will take care of each other.”
A moment of silence was held for Joseph and for Yaolin. Afterward, Yung Yu Lin, a Jacobs School of Music student, played a solo on the violin, while family and friends laid flowers and gifts in front of each wreath.
Then, everyone turned on their candles and lifted their arms in the air in honor of their fellow students, creating a sea of lights throughout the meadow.
The students’ family members spoke next.
Joseph’s family recalled his drive, intelligence, sense of humor and friendliness.
“He was a really, really good person,” said Joseph’s sister, Vivian. “He just lit up a room wherever he went. He’s the comic relief of my life.”
Although they were a year and a half apart, Vivian said people would mistake the two for twins. Joseph didn’t like that, and Vivian said she would tease him about it.
“I really feel like he’s my twin,” she said. “I feel like I’ve lost a part of me I’ll never be able to get back. I wish I could’ve had more time with him. I appreciate everyone who was his friend and hugged him for me while we was away.”
Later on in the ceremony, Sigma Pi member Mike Barsella, standing at the microphone along with the rest of his and Joseph’s pledge class, said Joseph was always there for everyone. Joseph reminded his brothers to stay on schedule and taught them the importance of respecting each other.
“Only now do we realize how much of a hero you were, Smedley,” Barsella said. “No one will ever forget how great of a friend, student and brother you were.”
The fraternity is organizing a memorial event for Joseph on Oct. 13; the time and location are still to be determined. Another service in honor of Joseph will take place 2 p.m. Saturday at Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis, his family said.
Following the Smedley family’s words, Yaolin’s father spoke, with someone translating his Chinese.
On Sept. 18, Yaolin turned 21. Her father came to IU to visit and celebrate the occasion with her. They walked around campus, hand in hand.
“I was so impressed with the environment and culture at IU,” he said. “I told her, ‘please work together with your classmates. Learn from each other, spend time with them.’”
They walked past statues of famous alumni. He said he encouraged Yaolin to look up to these people as role models.
“’By working hard, you can leave your own legacy like the statues that stand before us,’” he said to her.
When the university offered to refund the family her tuition, Yaolin’s father said it actually depressed him.
“I hear Yaolin’s voice telling me, ‘please don’t let me leave the school, please let me stay here,’” he said.
He plans to donate the tuition back to the university and start an endowment fund in his daughter’s name, “so that she can stay here forever with us.”
Yaolin was “pure and lovely”, her father said. He said to students at the vigil that study is not the most important part of college for the parents – their children’s health and happiness is.
“Today I hope that everyone will come together and pray for Joseph’s family as well as Yaolin,” he said, “so that may both of them rest in peace in heaven. Because there, there’s no worries, no stress and no violence.”