Friends reflect on life of freshman Stella Chung

By MARVIS GUTIERREZ | February 13, 2020

The Hopkins community is mourning the death of Stella Chung, who passed away Feb. 1. She was a freshman from San Diego, Calif. who studied Public Health and was on the pre-med track. 

Chung was an executive board member of the Hopkins Sport Taekwondo Club, as well as a member of the Chamber Music Ensemble. She began playing the violin at the age of five.

When those close to Chung think about the friend they lost, they emphasize her compassion and care for others, and how she lived a life exemplary of virtue.

Freshman Alexis Diaz, who became friends with Chung through the HopkinsLEAD pre-orientation program, reflected on the impact Chung had on the Hopkins community.

“Gracious, eloquent, positive and full of joy, Stella, true to her name, shone brightly in every aspect of her life, and in turn was a light in the lives of countless,” Diaz wrote in a letter to The News-Letter. “There is no quick way to sum Stella up or to wrap up her persona in a neat little paragraph. She was amazing, though she would never say it; she didn’t need to... She made a tremendous impact in those whose lives she touched, a difference in everyday life that was somehow both unimposing and unassuming.”

Friends remember Chung as a humble and genuine influence on them. They recall her honesty — how she always had something kind to say, no matter the situation. Chung didn’t seek to show off, they said, but instead remained true to herself, seeking out opportunities that would benefit the community rather than herself.

“She was generous. She put others before herself and never asked for anything in return. Her giving nature came from genuine unselfishness and a place of true caring,” Diaz wrote.

Freshman Fateha Zannath also met Chung through the HopkinsLEAD pre-orientation program and soon became close friends with her. In an email to the The News-Letter, she recalled Chung’s passion and pursuit of the medical field.

“She really just wanted to do her best everyday,” she wrote. “Stella was interested in emergency medicine — because she believed that that is when people are looking for authentic help at their most vulnerable times.”

Chung was someone who cherished her relationships even when there was an onslaught of academic stress. 

“She savored the little things in life that often go unappreciated, and never took life for granted,” Diaz wrote. “One night, after a long study session, Stella and I played pool until midnight.”

Friends remember her calming presence; she would transform locations of stress into spaces of positivity. Zannath reminisced about some of her best memories with Chung: their Friday nights in Brody Learning Commons.

“Taking advantage of empty rooms, we would book a room only to watch movies or fool around before going back to our rooms to eat snacks,” Zannath wrote.

During her brief time at Hopkins, Chung’s warm nature touched the lives of many. She was both a mentee and a mentor, a team player and leader. She joined the Hopkins community early and excelled in the Chamber Music Ensemble and the Hopkins Sport Taekwondo Club, where she became an executive board member. 

When asked why such a diverse range of interests attracted her, Chung would identify the camaraderie and belonging that could be found in the communities she was part of. Diaz recalled standing outside occupied music rooms in AMR II, where Chung was a resident of Lazear House.

“As I was waiting, I would hear beautiful violin music coming from one of the rooms. I never knew who it was until one day I ran into Stella in the hall after having finished my practice session, with her violin in hand,” Diaz wrote. “She put herself and her soul into everything she did.” 

On Feb. 8, the Chung family held a funeral at the Saints Philip and James Catholic Church & University Parish, where Chung’s ensemble played the last orchestral piece they were able to perform with Chung as a tribute. The ceremony was also live-streamed to her high school community in California and her family in South Korea.

“She was humble, never bragging about her accomplishments,” Diaz wrote. “And she was grateful, appreciative of everything her family had sacrificed for her; she so deeply wanted to make them proud. She never complained or asked for anything, and was always thankful for what she had. She told me about her life, how she had come here by herself, with her entire life packed into two suitcases.”

Zannath emphasized the importance of Chung’s contributions to the Hopkins community.

“I want people to remember Stella as someone who made it their life’s mission to carry positive energies with them and was generous when it came to spreading those energies to others,” she wrote.

Vice Provost for Student Affairs Alanna Shanahan and Dean of Student Life Smita Ruzicka sent a schoolwide email on Feb. 6, informing the Hopkins community of Chung’s death.

“Stella will be remembered as a valued and loved member of our Hopkins family,” they wrote. “We will miss the bright light she brought to the lives of those who had the honor to know her.”

The email also highlighted Chung’s charitable work with children and underprivileged communities.

Shanahan and Ruzicka announced that they would be collecting letters on behalf of Chung’s family. Students can address their condolences to “The Family of Stella Chung” and send them to the Office of the Dean of Student Life in Mattin Center Suite 210 or email them to deanofstudents@jhu.edu

They specified that there are no community health or safety concerns related to Chung’s passing, and encouraged students to reach out to a variety of resources.

Diaz concluded her letter with a quote that, she said, Stella lived by.

“There are seven days in the week,” she wrote, “and ‘someday’ isn’t one of them.’”

The Counseling Center may be contacted by calling 410-516-8278, and is open 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m on Friday. Outside of normal hours, the counselor on call may be reached by calling the office and following the appropriate prompts. 

A Place to Talk, which is open Sunday through Thursday from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. in Wolman Hall and Brody Learning Commons Room 4010. 

Religious and Spiritual Life, open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, may be reached at 410-516-1880.

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