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U-Va. graduate student Stephanie Jean-Charles killed in Haiti earthquake

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 15, 2010; 4:37 PM

Stephanie Jean-Charles returned to Port-au-Prince last month from her graduate studies at the University of Virginia full of anticipation for catching up with family and friends over the long, warm winter break.

She died Tuesday in the earthquake that leveled her country.

Also among the confirmed dead: Victoria DeLong, 57, the only U.S. diplomat known to have perished in the quake.

Jean-Charles, 22, was a graduate student in the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at U-Va. She had completed a bachelor's degree in French and foreign policy in May. She was home for winter break with her mother, father and sister.

"She was just so excited to go back, see family and friends and just relax," said Sam Dreiman, a classmate at the Batten School. "She was absolutely in love with the country and the people."

Jean-Charles was napping when the earthquake struck. The rest of the family survived, but "their house is gone," said Genevieve Rene, a cousin in Glendale, Md.

Fluent in Haitian Creole, French and English, Jean-Charles was very much "the classic, well-rounded U-Va. student," said Yarimar Bonilla, an anthropology professor who worked with her in studies of the French Caribbean. One of her French professors preferred to call her by her given name, "Pierrette."

Jean-Charles had overcome her fear of whitewater rafting and bears in a leadership retreat to West Virginia. She had worked as a peer adviser to fellow students, and as an intern at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in the District. In the summer, she would return to Haiti to work alongside her father in the foreign assistance organization USAID, an agency now dispensing disaster relief in the Haitian capital.

"She was just everywhere, everywhere and anywhere at one time," Rene said. "She never slacked."

Stephanie Jean-Charles wanted to return to Haiti for good one day, to work on improving Haiti's education system.

"I can still see her face, her smile," said Sylvia Terry, the recently retired associate dean of the Office of African-American Affairs at U-Va. She had exchanged e-mails with Jean-Charles last week. "I'm still dealing with the fact that I won't be able to see her," she said.

Jean-Charles was known for her broad smile and soft-spoken wisdom. She often wore yellow, a color that seemed to fit her personality, "warm, bright, radiant and glowing," said Roxy Caines, a staff member at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "I just always felt that she had a light within her."

Alex Flachsbart, a fellow intern, recalled her as "a quiet presence. In those group settings, she didn't say much, but what she did say was always fascinating."

Her Facebook page reveals a brasher side: a fondness for absurdist political comedian John Oliver, for the metal band Power Surge and for the sophisticated clothing line MeJeanne Couture. A Facebook tribute page, penned by Rene, lists her addictions: Youtube, Nutella, the teen television drama Degrassi and bulky jewelry. She was the best Karaoke singer in her graduate program, said classmate Jessica Housden, 22. And the best dancer.

Jean-Charles was "a young woman with many dreams," wrote Harry Harding, dean of the Batten School, in an e-mail to faculty. One was to see a Broadway musical. He didn't know whether she ever fulfilled it.

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