Laurice Shern ’14 passed away on March 19 at her home in California after a two-year battle with cancer.
She is survived by her parents, her younger sister, Laurel, her fiancée, Will Craig ’12 and her aunt Scarlett Jang, art professor at the College. Laurice was 20 years old.
Laurice attended Troy High School in Los Angeles, Calif., and matriculated at the College in the fall of 2009 as a member of the Class of 2013. She was diagnosed with her illness a month into her time on campus and left soon after to pursue treatment closer to home.
“She came to school, and she was very quick to make friends, both in the entry and outside the entry,” Emily Studenmund ’11 said. Studenmund served as Laurice’s Junior Advisor in Williams F. “She was really excited about all the opportunities she was going to have [at the College] … It gave me that same excitement of experiencing college for the first time.”
Jimmy Grzelak ’13 recalls a night during First Days when his entry had “failed” to have their first college party, and “a couple of us had started walking around outside and sat down on the pavement by Mission Hill. We were just talking and laughing, [and] Laurice was just so appreciative of [everything] around her,” Grzelak said. “More than anybody else in our entry, she had this readiness and excitement for everything that the big college adventure was going to be. When she left the entry, that’s what made it so hard for everybody to handle. Even before there was any sense that she had to leave, she appreciated it and was so generous.”
Grzelak noted that “even though the experience [of coping with cancer] taught her so much, [Laurice] was already wise in her ability to enjoy things.”
Studenmund said that although Laurice was not physically present in the entry for very long, she remained in touch with her entrymates through Skype, electronically sat in on entry snacks and also frequently sent her entry care packages, gifts and cards.
“Considering what she was going through, that she was still doing so much for everyone else was just incredible,” Studenmund said.
Craig said that Laurice “would lead others on the road to happiness.” The two began dating in December 2011.
“She was strength, hope and positivity for everyone who walked with her … Despite pain and fatigue, she would wake up with the desire to push herself to get as much life as possible from the time that was given to her. Many would come to her side in sadness, but few would leave uninspired,” he added.
Many students remember not only Laurice’s genuine kindness, but also her love of conversation, vibrant energy and playful sense of humor.
“She loved conversation and being able to talk to her friends,” said Jonathan Wosen ’13, one of Laurice’s entrymates. “That was probably one of the most important things that she valued in relationships with people. Most of the people in our group of friends were science majors, and so we were used to talking to each other in Schow while working on lab reports or a problem set, but Laurice was a big believer in actually sitting down and setting aside time to talk to people.”
Hannah Hindel ’13 recalled attending last year’s Winter Carnival gala with Laurice: “Even after returning to Williams after nine months of chemo and cancer treatment, she lit up the gala in Paresky with her energy and spirit,” Hindel said.
“She’d drag us away from our work for a few hours Friday night to go to First Fridays before we’d go back to getting caught up in our work again,” Wosen said. Studenmund also noted Laurice’s carefree, easygoing attitude.
Gary Smith, Laurice’s uncle and a Williamstown resident, recalled the mysterious cow hooves and purple tail strategically placed in President Falk’s lawn last Halloween, giving the impression that a purple cow was buried upside-down in the snow. “That was Laurice,” said Smith.
In terms of her studies at the College, Laurice was interested in pursuing a major in political science and art history, two subjects that she loved.
“I asked her if having cancer changed her attitude about studying in any way, and she said that it made her want to work harder and make sure to achieve something she could be proud of,” Smith said. “I thought that was amazing, because a lot of people would just say, ‘Well, I have cancer, so from now, on I am just going to stop working so hard and just have some fun, because I deserve it.’ Not Laurice. She did make sure to have fun, but she always worked hard, as if she would live forever. And a lot of her work was for other people, like working for Relay for Life.”
Smith mentioned that Laurice planned to study abroad in Europe next year, perhaps in Switzerland.
“At one time, she told me she was thinking of being a diplomat,” he said. “She might have been a good one, because she was very poised and confident around various kinds of people, and while she was graceful and soft, she was fearless in entering a debate or a discussion. She always impressed people with how intelligent and thoughtful her ideas were, plus she did not allow herself to be pushed around.
“If she had become an art historian, she would have been an insightful one, and her art history professors agree. My wife and I are both art historians. I have spent many pleasant hours with Laurice in museums, and it was fun to see her enthusiasm,” Smith continued.
Outside of academics, Laurice enjoyed horseback riding, playing the viola and dancing. She was also a member of Dance Dhamaka and served as business manager for the Record. Laurice loved fashion, dining out, shopping, reading, spending time with friends and family, cooking and baking, according to Smith. “She sometimes thought of opening a bakery shop here in Williamstown, like a coffee shop but with great pastries and cakes,” he said.
Laurice previously wrote an op-ed published in the Record about coping with cancer (“Choosing to Fight,” March 10, 2011) and also kept a blog, The 9 Month Challenge, during her journey through treatment.
“She was always so courageous,” said Laurice’s mother, Florence Shern. “Even when she was struggling with her cancer treatment, she never complained. She was always very optimistic.”
Hindel remembers reading Laurice’s blog posts as a way of keeping in touch while she was away from Williamstown.
“The entry made her a thousand paper cranes, a concept that Mai Okimoto [’13], our entrymate from Japan, told us would grant the receiver one wish. I think Laurice’s wish was to return to Williams and enjoy her life, and she did just that. She joined Dance Dhamaka, baked as much as she could, took Chinese classes and spent time with her friends,” Hindel said. “I miss Laurice, but I know that she took advantage of every moment she had. Every so often, I’ll go back and read her blog, and it inspires me to not take anything for granted. I know that Laurice would not have tolerated any of that.”
Studenmund and Wosen both spoke to Laurice’s strong, mature perspective amidst the uncertainty of her illness. “Some of her other friends and I were always focused on all the small details of what was going on in our lives – this week’s assignments, next summer’s internship – but Laurice didn’t really get fazed by those sort of things,” Wosen said.
“What I remember most is that Laurice was so grateful to be alive always, but especially when I knew her my sophomore year, when she’d returned from a year of cancer treatment,” Shirley Li ’13 said. “She was grateful when some of our entry joined her to walk and sing silly songs at Relay for Life, grateful when we threw water balloons at her and ate cake on Paresky lawn for her birthday, grateful to be at Williams as a normal, everyday student with stress and schoolwork, friends and busy days. I am grateful to have known her, and want to strive to be more gracious, as she was so much to us.”
“The difficulty Laurice faced is not a story of overcoming pain, but rather of finding purpose, happiness and fulfillment in the face of the hardest of struggles,” Craig said. “In death, her goodness lives on in her family, her friends and all those who were warmed by her light.”
A memorial service for Laurice will be held on Sunday at 7:30 p.m. in Griffin 3, and will be focused around an open mic session and remembering Laurice as a vibrant young woman who loved music, loved baking and touched so many within this community during her time here.