NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Rutgers University held a silent vigil Sunday night to remember a student who committed suicide after his sexual encounter with a man in his dormitory room was secretly streamed online.
The tribute to 18-year-old freshman Tyler Clementi drew a few hundred people, many holding candles, to the school’s campus in New Brunswick.
While some area religious officials briefly addressed the crowd during the hour-long vigil, few words were spoken by the participants. Most in attendance took the time to reflect on what had happened to Clementi, sharing hugs and holding hands with others in a show if unity.
Among those attending was Rutgers student Julie Burg, who said she wanted to spread the message that help is available for students in crisis.
“There are many groups anywhere you go to that could help support you,” Burg told WCBS-TV in New York.
Burg was joined at the vigil by her mother, Annmarie Burg, who was saddened by the events leading to Clementi’s death.
“It had to take such an unfortunate incident like this to create, probably, an even larger awareness,” the mother said.
Prosecutors say Clementi’s roommate and another student used a webcam to broadcast on the Internet live images of Clementi having the intimate encounter.
Clementi, a promising violinist, jumped off the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River three days later. His body was identified Thursday.
Rutgers President Richard McCormick said the vigil was an opportunity for students and staff to come together and “reaffirm our commitment to the values of civility, dignity, compassion and respect.”
The vigil was the latest in a series of remembrances for Clementi at the university that included the establishment of a Facebook group, In Honor of Tyler Clementi.
On Friday, students wore black and were encouraged to leave flowers or mementoes at a makeshift memorial for Clementi. The Rutgers Glee Club marched to the memorial and performed a rendition of “Rutgers Prayer,” which is traditionally sung when an important member of the Rutgers community dies or a tragedy happens at the university.
On Saturday, the school had a moment of silence for Clementi before the start of its homecoming football game against Tulane.
Clementi’s death was one of a string of suicides last month involving teens believed to have been victims of anti-gay bullying. On Friday, more than 500 people attended a memorial service for Seth Walsh, a 13-year-old central California boy who hanged himself after enduring taunts from classmates about being gay.
Each religion sees a face of God, despite the human diversity of rites and practices they each practice
The Rev. Petra Weldes | Special Contributor
LIGHTING THE WAY FOR PEACE | Carla Bolta of New York holds a candle during a peace rally in support of the proposed mosque near Ground Zero on Friday, Sept. 10, in New York. (Jin Lee/Associated Press)There is a deep and essential unity underlying our apparent differences; it is our shared humanity. And underneath the outer human diversity of spiritual rites and practices is the shining reality that each religion sees a face of God, and teaches fundamentally the Oneness of God and a deep love for all of creation.
Consequently, we must learn to respect all paths to God for what they add to the richness of our spiritual understanding and how each faith succors a people for whom that faith is their way to God.
We know that, as Albert Einstein said, we cannot solve a problem with the same consciousness that created it. Fear and hatred will never transform fear and hatred, nor will it create a peaceful world.
As the media frenzy around the controversy over a proposed mosque (actually a community center) within blocks of Ground Zero has continued to grow, and verbal and physical attacks against Islamic people take place, it seems that many Americans have forgotten some basic tenets of, not only the U.S. Constitution, but also of civility and common decency.
While appreciating the raw feelings surrounding the site, which has rightly become sacred ground in the nine years since the fall of the World Trade Center towers, to deny rights to groups who had nothing to do with the tragedy is simply mindless fear and hatred.
Sept. 11 was not an act of Islam. It was an act of terrorists who distort the precepts of that religion. Surely we recognize that all spiritual traditions have their zealots, fanatics, and people who misuse and misinterpret their faith for their own gain.
We must begin to recognize and support the full expression of religious freedom, realizing that all paths to God, when rightly practiced, promote love, peace and respect for others. Consequently, it’s important to honor the dignity of all the world’s sacred literature including the Bible, Torah, Qur’an, Avesta, Pahlavi, Sutras, Vedas and more.
We must begin to see that these texts all contain a portion of humanity’s spiritual truth, and therefore deserve to be treated with the same care with which we would treat our own.
Ernest Holmes, in the New Thought text “The Science of Mind” once said, “Find me one person who is for something and against nothing, who is redeemed enough not to condemn others out of the burden of his soul, and I will find another savior, another Jesus, and an exalted human being.”
In that same spirit, let us stand together for the One Divine Presence that moves through all humanity, and respect the dignity of every person’s right to the full expression of religious freedom, rites, practices and ritual.
Let us support the respect and dignity inherent in the law of the land, the U.S. Constitution, and the law of a Higher Power known by many names. Let us envision a world beyond what we now know; a world free of war, homelessness, hunger, poverty, disenfranchisement and terror — a world of peace, freedom, justice, caring, compassion and unity.
The bigger issue, then, is not the proximity of one piece of sacred ground to another or the comparative sacredness of one text versus another. The issue is finding common ground to create a peaceful, tolerant world that works for everyone.
The Rev. Petra Weldes is senior minister of the Center for Spiritual Living in Dallas, online at CSLDallas.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.