Huixiang Chen’s phone still lights up with a text message from his mom every day.
However, she will never receive a reply.
Chen’s family sat in the front row of the UF Baughman Center Wednesday afternoon. Daylight shone through the glass windows lining the paneled wooden walls, illuminating the overflow of UF community members who left standing room only in the building.
More than 150 people gathered together to commemorate the life of Huixiang Chen at the UF-hosted celebration of life memorial service.
Chen, an international UF doctoral candidate in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, was found dead on campus in Benton Hall after taking his own life June 13.
UF released a statement regarding his death after UF Graduate Assistants United requested an independent investigation, aside from the police investigation, following the circumstances that led to Chen’s death.
The Baughman Center was decorated with photos of Chen, and a playlist of Chen’s favorite Buddhist music filled the hall.
David Norton, vice president for research at UF, offered his condolences on behalf of the university.
“There is nothing more heartbreaking for this university than to lose one of our own,” Norton said.
He said Chen was known and loved by his friends and family for his kindness and empathy. Norton also said Chen had passions and talents outside of academics. He was an excellent cook and a devoted fan of the NBA team, the San Antonio Spurs.
“You will always be a Gator, you will always be part of our community,” Norton said, referring to Chen.
Cammy Abernathy, dean of Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering, said Chen was a man of intelligence and dedication.
She said students have dozens of options when it comes to choosing a major and Chen picked one of the most difficult tracks of studying on any campus – engineering.
“That requires commitment, perseverance and dedication,” Abernathy said. “He did not shy for this commitment.”
After the UF officials expressed their condolences, Chen’s cousin Hairong Guo spoke on behalf of the family and the struggles they have been facing since his death. Guo delivered her statement in Chinese, which was translated through an English interpreter after she spoke.
“Huixiang’s mother continues to send a text message to him every day,” Guo said.
She said the family cannot accept Chen’s death and wants to know what he had experienced.
“He should have [had] a bright future,” Guo said. “He should have [had] the opportunity to appreciate the joy of life.”
The university reserved the Baughman Center until 4 p.m. in order for people to stay. Counselors from the UF Counseling and Wellness Center stayed in the back for people to talk to after the service.
Zhong Guo, a 25-year-old UF mechanical engineering doctoral student, was an acquaintance of Chen. He attended the service with other graduate students.
“I appreciate that the university held this service in honor of Huixiang’s life, but I think it should have been done sooner,” he said. “He passed away almost a month ago.”