Less than two weeks after the T.C. Williams Class of 2005 piled into the school's yawning auditorium for a commencement rehearsal, many of the now-graduates returned yesterday to the same space, this time to remember the one among them whose life had ended in the short time since.
For many, it was the fourth time they had gathered for such a ritual during the past two years. Kelley Swanson's sudden death last week was the fourth death among T.C. Williams students or recent graduates -- and the third from the Class of 2005.
Swanson died Thursday after falling ill during a graduation trip to a North Carolina beach resort with classmates. Virginia health officials said she suffered from sepsis, a blood infection triggered by the bacterium that can also cause meningitis.
The annual beach trip is a tradition among T.C. Williams graduates, who head for rented seaside houses. This year, about 40 students departed the morning after graduation.
But the merriment of what was to be a week-long trip was cut short by a swift turn toward tragedy: Early Thursday, just hours after complaining of weakness and nausea, Swanson died at a North Carolina hospital.
In the lobby outside the auditorium yesterday, stuck on a poster board covered with photos of Swanson -- her arms enveloping soccer teammates, her smile shining below a coiffed prom hairdo -- were six words that defined the 18-year-old: Athlete. Friend. Volunteer. Soccer fiend. Fashion plate. Twin.
During a 21/2-hour memorial, a procession of emotion-choked friends and family confirmed those words, describing a fearless soccer captain, a 4.0 honors student who prodded friends about applying for college and a clothes-borrowing sister who changed dozens of times before going out.
"This young lady was good at anything she ever did, anything she ever touched," said an uncle, Joe Barrett.
Swanson's death once again immersed T.C. Williams students, their parents and Alexandria residents with ties to the school into the sorrow accompanying the loss of a young person.
In October, honors student Laura K. Lynam, 17, was killed in a car crash as she and other members of the T.C. Williams crew team drove to a regatta. One year before that, 16-year-old Schuyler H. Jones -- also a rower -- was beaten to death in Old Town Alexandria. Both would have graduated with Swanson's class.
Just a year ago, former T.C. Williams rower John Steve Catilo, 20, drowned in the Potomac River after he fell from a launch. He was coaching a boatful of novice rowers in Alexandria.
Several speakers at Swanson's memorial mentioned the deaths and the particular impact they have had on the Class of 2005. Opening the service, the Rev. Matt Hillyard prayed for the students, who, he said, "have experienced more loss than we expect for those so young."
Outside after the service, recent graduate Brandon Fisher, 18, reflected solemnly on the deaths of his classmates, each of whom was a friend.
"There's been so many deaths, there's been many losses in our class," Fisher said. "But you know what? The community's changing -- it keeps getting stronger."
Speakers yesterday remembered Swanson as a wry, vivacious teenager who packed countless successes into a short life. But many said she was best remembered as a member of her family -- parents Mimi and Sandy and four siblings, a well-known clan of redheads -- and as a twin of Katey.
The two were often confused as children, until Katey straightened her hair, said Carolyn Beckett, whose daughter, Elizabeth, was best friends with the twins. From then on, she said, they were known as "Curly Kelley" and "Straighty Katey."
"We were kindred spirits from the beginning," Katey said from the stage, surrounded by friends.
Swanson's uncle Mike Barrett joked about her decision to attend Virginia Tech in the fall -- and not his alma mater, the University of Virginia. But he turned serious when he spoke to Swanson's classmates of the legacy his niece, Jones and Lynam left.
The three "were leaders in the classroom and in life," he said. "Honor them, please. We need you to be leaders today."