Friends recall optimism of Casey Schulman, U-Va. student killed during Semester at Sea


Casey Schulman, 22, was killed in a boating accident in the final days of the Semester at Sea program. (Family Photo)
December 4, 2012

The day before Casey Schulman departed for the University of Virginia’s Semester at Sea program, the 22-year-old senior was elated about the adventures awaiting her: She would roam the Atlantic Ocean with dozens of other students, stopping in 14 countries, learning about an array of cultures.

For Schulman, a foreign affairs major from Falls Church, it was a nearly ideal opportunity. She could barely contain herself as she spent her last day at home hanging out with longtime friend Rachael Scholl.

“She was very, very, very excited about it,” said Scholl, who was on the J.E.B. Stuart High School cheerleading squad with Schulman and is a junior at the University of Mary Washington. “She loved to go places.”

After the boating accident that killed Schulman on Saturday as she snorkeled at the Caribbean island of Dominica — her ship’s last stop before returning to the United States — friends and community members recalled Schulman’s embrace of new experiences and infectiously upbeat attitude.

As co-captain of Stuart’s varsity cheerleading squad, Schulman welcomed Scholl onto the team. Schulman helped the younger girl overcome her fear of being lifted into the air, telling Scholl that she would always be there to catch her.

Former Stuart principal Pamela Jones described Schulman as a leader among her peers, adding that Schulman would drop in at her office to chat about school and life.

“She was just a happy face and had a great outlook on life,” Jones said. “You never saw her down in the dumps. Remembering her now, I see her with her friends and laughing.”

Jones said she clearly remembers the sunny day in 2009 when she handed Schulman her diploma. Schulman bounded onto the stage and wrapped her arms around Jones for a long embrace.

“The thing I remember most about Casey is the kindness and just her bright smile,” Jones said. “She was a great girl, the kind of daughter that everyone wanted to have. You’re a better person for having known her.”

Even in high school, Schulman displayed an interest in travel and foreign affairs, Jones said. That passion blossomed at U-Va. Her aunt, Karen Hess — who has been speaking for the family — said Schulman had hoped to make a career of traveling the world and helping people.

During the first 14 weeks of Semester at Sea, Schulman and about 50 other students visited countries including Portugal, Ireland, Ghana and Brazil while studying subjects from art history to marine biology. The program is academically accredited through U-Va.

In a memorial essay posted on the Semester at Sea Web site, Schulman’s friends from the program said she loved the opportunity to immerse herself in other cultures. She particularly enjoyed practicing Spanish with native speakers, said Julia Farnesi, a junior studying occupational therapy at Western Illinois University.

“Speaking the language just made her world,” Farnesi said in the essay. “We would go out and I wouldn’t see her for half the night because she was talking to a local.”

Her roommate on the ship, Katie Dorset, said Schulman ate every meal outside, no matter the temperature, because she couldn’t get enough of the view from the ship’s deck. Farnesi said that Schulman kept a piece of paper by her bed with the word “thankful” on it.

“She never had a bad day on this ship,” Dorset said in the essay.

Schulman was killed while on a side excursion with members of the group, enjoying a day relaxing at a Caribbean beach. Authorities in Dominica have said Schulman was swimming when a boat backed up and hit her.

In Charlottesville, where Schulman was active in the Alpha Phi sorority, a member said the group is grieving privately and that her sorority sisters felt it was too soon to speak about their loss.

“Casey Schulman’s death is a cause of much sadness at the University,” Patricia Lampkin, U-Va.’s vice president and chief student affairs officer, said in a statement. “She was an exceptionally bright light — both in and outside the classroom — and she will long be remembered as a vibrant member of our community.”

Some of Schulman’s friends at U-Va. organized a prayer vigil Sunday, the same day her friends held a memorial service on the Semester at Sea ship. The program also scheduled a Reflection Day for Tuesday, including a ceremony in which the captain navigates the ship in three full circles and shipmates place flowers in the ocean.

Schulman’s family has not yet scheduled a local memorial service. At the request of her parents, Semester at Sea has placed a memory box on the ship so that classmates and faculty can share their photos and stories.

Maggie Fazeli Fard and Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.
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