Reflection by Eric
 
 

Ben was the first person that I met at Rice after Orientation Week (O-week). I still remember him knocking on my door on that Saturday morning.

“Hi. My name is Ben. I lived in this room last year. Here's the thing—this room has a history of being the freshman room for Wiess College presidents. But the trend seems to skip a year, so by my calculations either you or your roommate will be the future Wiess College president. I thought that I should meet you.”

I was kind of taken aback by this proclamation of my future leadership role, and maybe Ben sensed that. He added, “I think that we should be friends. If you would like, I'm headed to Value Village with a couple of friends in an hour. You should come; we have one more seat in the car.”

At this point, I knew nothing about this guy, but his charisma and self-confidence were convincing enough. I definitely wanted to join him, whatever the mission. I had always been a bit of a loner in high school, and the thought of fast friendships with like minded people was enticing. The novelty of absolute freedom from my parents had not worn thin.

Even so, I asked, “What exactly is Value Village?,” feigning a slight lack of resolve.

Ben answered, “It's a thrift shop. Amazing clothes. You'll like it.” As a rural kid from Tennessee, I had never heard of this type of store. I agreed to the idea without further hesitation. The ensuing day was a great one—we tried on outrageous clothing combinations for the entire afternoon. I think that we may have bought one or two items, but I know that the store clerks probably breathed a sigh of relief when we left. Afterward, I remember us having a lengthy debate on whether second-hand underwear or socks were acceptable for purchase.

Ben was a natural leader of this crew. His enthusiasm was infectious. He was always in control of the conversation, framing the “important” questions about the silly and absurd topics that Rice kids are so fond of. I remember coming home that afternoon, giddy with excitement. College was daunting in many ways, but the outlook had just gotten a lot better now that I had met Ben.



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As I grew to know Ben better, he started inspiring me to try out activities that I never would have participated in otherwise. Because of him, I became a deejay at the Rice radio station (KTRU), I started attending services at the Catholic church, and I even joined in a t-shirt eating group (one square of t-shirt after each dinner!). With Ben, no matter what the activity was, he would approach it with single-minded focus. His winsome smile and ability to laugh at himself would quickly inspire others to join him in whatever he had set out to do.

Even so, for some of his zanier pursuits, no amount of persuasion would convince his friends to participate. Ben loved the company of others, but he would not be deterred if no one chose to join him. I remember the semester that he lived off campus and refused to purchase food, scouring free pizzas, doughnuts, and other sundry snacks from on campus events. At the beginning of the semester, he was encouraging everyone to join him, although I am fairly certainly that he did not find any takers. At some point during the semester, I asked him if this pursuit was proving to be difficult, and he told me that it was fairly hard to find food on the weekend and that he was eating a terrible diet. When I suggested that maybe he should give it up, he was quick to reject the idea. He had no intention of quitting. He had set out this goal and was going to see it through completion.

I remember Ben jumping into Lake Ontario on a cool morning while we were en route to Montreal, remaining steadfast in his resolve even when no one else would join him. He had set a goal to swim in every one of the Great Lakes. No amount of discouragement had an effect on him. If anything, the more the doubt, the stronger his determination.


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The goal to swim in every Great Lake was a fitting one for Ben, marrying two of his main interests—greatness and lists. When Ben talked about any subject for a length of time, he would inevitably construct a list, detailing the highest mountain peaks, best blues artists, or most populous cities. He would say things like, “This song by King's X has the best guitar part of any rock song ever made.” Reflecting, he would pause and then say, “Well, definitely one of the top 10 best guitar parts.” Then he would recount others that deserved to be on the list, taking suggestions from others for further additions. He would continue this refinement process until he was satisfied with the list, even if the original list had been expanded two or three times to accommodate all of the additions.

I think that these lists inspired Ben to both strive for and surround himself with greatness. He was a driven person, one who was passionate about his goals. Ben sought to aim for the very top, the essence of greatness.


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The last time that I saw Ben occurred directly after he finished the Western States 100 mile run. Ben was telling us about his philosophy with clicking the like button on facebook. “I click like all of the time. I want to support people. If they are passionate about something, I say encourage them.”


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Ben's impact on my life has been an indelible one. He has inspired and will continue to inspire me and others. We all have a bit of Ben in us, and my hope is that we will honor his memory by setting lofty goals, striving for greatness, and living with passion. He would expect nothing less of us.