Editor’s Note: This article concerns Vanessa Mark, a student who recently passed away, and therefore may be emotionally challenging for some readers.
Twenty-five-year-old undergraduate student Vanessa Mark tragically passed away during the fatal Boston/Cambridge shuttle accident on Saturday, Nov. 15. Mark was on leave from Brandeis at the time, but was residing in Waltham. In a university email, Brandeis President Ron Liebowitz stated, “[She] was an active and cherished member of the Brandeis community.”
Several of her friends and acquaintances from Brandeis shared memories of her with The Hoot in remembrance of her contributions to the community. These conversations represent just a sample of the many lives she touched while at Brandeis.
Vanessa met many of her friends through her participation in performance groups on campus. Her close friend Sam Forman ’21 shared that he met her during fall improv auditions, where she would go on to become a member of Brandeis’ oldest improv troupe, False Advertising. “I could immediately tell how friendly and funny she was. I have a video somewhere of her rolling on the floor with two other people, all singing their hearts out. It was hysterical and a clear sign of her character and personality,” he recalled. Another close friend Adam Fleishaker ’21 met her during rehearsals for the acapella group he and Forman were in, he shared in an interview with The Boston Globe. He recalled Mark’s uplifting presence and her ability to make others laugh. Beyond rehearsals and auditions, Vanessa met her friend Rachel Freed Sussman ’21 during pre-orientation before classes and Rebecca Goldfarb ’21 through mutual friends.
Goldfarb reminisced on time spent with Mark, saying, “[Our friends and I] all had morning classes in [the Rabb Graduate Center] and every day after class, we would meet in the quad and goof around…We were just a bunch of quirky kids…being ourselves.”
Mark exhibited talent for theater, comedy and art, her friends effusively recalled. Fleishaker remembered she was a star on stage, where “when it was her moment to shine, she captivated the audience, and her fellow troupe members would build off her performance to keep the show’s momentum going,” according to the Boston Globe interview. “She was amazing in every False [Advertising] show I saw,” added Golfarb.
Goldfarb grew closer to Mark during their collaboration on the Undergraduate Theater Collective show “Beauty and The Beast,” where Goldfarb worked on sound design and Mark played the character Babette. She was particularly fond of tech week, where she recalls singing throwback songs in the green room or the auditorium with Mark and other members. “She was absolutely amazing and beyond perfect for that role,” Goldfarb said.
Mark’s talent on stage extended to her artistic talent. In her spare time, Mark would present her friends with doodles and miniature sculptures of them. Forman cherished the artwork she made him saying, “Vanessa was a brilliant artist with a really unique style. Even her doodles were gorgeous. Anytime I saw her drawing I’d be so excited to see how it came out.”
Mark also cared deeply about education, especially for children, and worked for the Waltham Group program Prospect Hill Kids’ Club. “It was clear how much she loved it,” Forman shared. “She was just this incredibly patient, incredibly persistent person who always wanted to do the right thing,” Freed Sussman recalled in the Boston Globe. “She never gave up on anything.”
In mourning her loss, her friends reflected on how Mark helped them grow and what they learned from their friendship with her. Each person The Hoot interviewed emphasized her ability to make people laugh, uplift their moods during stressful times and spread positivity. Beyond her jovial disposition, Mark came across as authentic and honest. Goldfarb recalled how she never observed Mark with a facade or being anything other than her true self. Goldfarb added that while she struggled with social anxiety, Mark helped her feel a sense of belonging, saying, “It’s this attitude that she taught me that allowed me to really integrate myself with the group of friends I made freshman year and to really feel like I had found true friends.”
Forman reflected on her progression through her mental health struggles and how he grew as a friend. “Seeing her progression and growth over the years was incredibly inspiring…Vanessa taught me that to support her, I had to go at her pace, and through doing that I got to experience her resilience and resolve, and her exactly as she was. I’m deeply grateful to have known her at every moment.”
Across the board, her friends expressed immense gratitude for having known her and celebrated her active role in the Brandeis community. As her friend Marisol Abreu ’21 puts it, “For me, what will forever be remembered about Vanessa was the effervescent, vivacious, sparkling quality to her, as if she sprinkled sugar on my entire experience of the world.” Fleishaker asserted that in remembering Mark, people should look back on “the art and life that flowed from her.”
Her friends look ahead at changes that can be implemented at Brandeis and how the community can support one another. Goldfarb proposed rigorous safety inspections and safety policies for all student transportation. Forman cited steps such as vetting drivers and vehicles, or subsidizing commuter rail tickets for students until a better solution is in place. He added that given preexisting accessibility concerns at Brandeis, he hopes that “the school makes actual improvements to the shuttle service and regains students’ trust to ensure that this never happens again.”
In mourning Mark’s loss and celebrating her life, Forman encouraged all students to not take the little moments for granted. “Contact [the] friends you’re thinking about; send them a text or call them, even just share a meme or something. There’s a good chance they’re thinking of you too.”