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VideoCandlelight Vigil Honors RBG

Vassar paid solemn tribute to civil rights champion and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Monday night, two days after she died of cancer at the age of 87.

Arriving in small groups following a brief ceremony broadcast via Zoom, students and others in the Vassar community carried candles onto the residential quad, arranging some of them into a memorial adorned with the initials RBG.

Video: Damian Zapien

The vigil was conceived by several leaders of Strong House the day Ginsburg died. “Some of us were sending messages to each other about what had happened,” said Oli Schmitz ’22, a house fellow intern at Strong. “It started as a sharing of our common grief and evolved into a wish to celebrate (Ginsburg’s) lifelong fight for people of marginalized genders.”

Schmitz said they and others at Strong reached out to President Elizabeth Bradley, who referred them to the Rev. Samuel Speers, Associate Dean of Religious and Spiritual Life and Contemplative Practices. Speers opened the Zoom service, and Rabbi Bryan Mann, Rachlin Director for Jewish Student Life, was one of the speakers.

Oli Schmitz, an organizer of the event, places a candle in a paper bag on the quad during the vigil.Photo: Karl Rabe

In his remarks, Speers noted that Ginsburg had a passage on her office wall from the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, from the Book of Deuteronomy: “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” Speers said the passage illustrated that Ginsburg’s “title was also her pursuit—justice as a lifelong calling, and also an unfinished work that must be entrusted to those who come after her.” 

Rabbi Mann noted that a common Hebrew passage that is used to honor someone who has recently died is often translated as “May her memory be a blessing.” But Mann said the true translation is, “May her memory be for a blessing.” And he urged those attending the vigil to use their memory of Ginsburg to work toward “an even greater blessing—that we may emulate her and make the world a more just place.”

Sydney Leidig ’22, co-president of Vassar Voices for Planned Parenthood, said Ginsburg’s death had left her and others fearful of its impact on women’s rights to reproductive health care. “RBG would want us to persist and fight for the rights and dignity of everyone,” Leidig said. 

Nora Zaki, Advisor for Muslim Student Life, led those assembled on the quad in a moment of silent meditation and rang a bell to end the vigil.

A silent tribute on the quad to the life of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.Photo: Karl Rabe

Schmitz said they and their friends at Strong hoped the vigil would serve as a call to action. “We want it to be a time when people can further their own understanding of justice and work to change systems that suppress democracy,” they said.

Schmitz thanked leaders of the Vassar community for embracing the idea for a vigil. “I’m just grateful to President Bradley and others who got involved right away to make this event happen,” they said. “It has really served as an example of how people in our community are willing to work together to address the needs of people in our community.”