Following is a text of Thomas Weiser’s remarks during a flag-lowering ceremony at UT Austin on Friday, October 14, 2016 in honor of the life and memory of his daughter Haruka Weiser.
“Walk With Me”
Thank you all for coming.
A couple of weeks ago, I was remembering the time when Haruka texted me about her discovery of “the stacks.” She had seen libraries before, but never anything like this. Rows and rows from floor to ceiling filled with bound volumes from Acta Arachnologica to Zoonoses and Public Health. I teased her and told her to look up an article I had written, but she was having too much fun just exploring. I remembered discovering the stacks myself many years ago and I felt proud that she was having that experience and the chance to broaden her horizons. When I visited her in October, last year, one of the places she wanted to take me was on a tour of the stacks, it was a special nerd-bonding moment.
In high school, Haruka’s whole world revolved around dance. She spent hours watching YouTube videos of Misty Copeland or Maria Kotchekova. So it came as a real surprise when she texted me from her first football game. “I love football!!” she wrote along with the picture of her and her roommate. If I had told her back in high school that four years later she would be wearing cowboy boots and loving football, she would never have believed it. Yet here she was. She was really happy here. She loved UT and she loved being here in Austin.
In the first hours of knowing that Haruka was the innocent victim of a campus-related homicide, my wife Yasuyo and I were simultaneously overwhelmed with grief, with disbelief and with a gnawing sense that this could not go unanswered. In the days and weeks since, we have been struggling through tidal waves of grief that continue, held up by the love and prayers of friends, family and complete strangers. This summer, as various acts of violence continued, so too, did the grieving sense of our own painful loss. We had ceremonies to honor Haruka, we talked with friends and counselors, we spent time with Haruka’s friends, we read as much as we were able.
It was a difficult and painful decision to return to UT. But we came — to share our thoughts, our vision with you. It is not perfect. Maybe it’s just a blind grasp in a very dark night. But we are here today to remember Haruka, a proud Longhorn and to ask that you would join us in trying to prevent what happened to Haruka from happening to another student.
We wish to respond in a meaningful way to Haruka’s death by using this as a time to focus on the sense of social responsibility and cohesiveness among the students, faculty and staff at University of Texas, Austin. By adopting the phrase, “Walk with Me,” we hope an environment will be created in which students care for each other, for themselves and for the world around them.
When this phrase first came to us, we recognized that “Walk With Me” had three meanings:
1. The first was to “Walk with each other.”
2. The second was to “Walk with Haruka’s memory and purpose.”
3. And the third meaning of “Walk With Me” is “Walk with us and all who are suffering.”
Walk with each other
“Walk With Me” is a campaign to change the culture for students regarding campus safety. While there is much the University can do and has already done to provide a safer environment such as more lighting, more police and improved landscaping, the core of “Walk With Me” is to create a cultural shift among students to always walk together, especially at night. It is our strong belief that this was the most likely thing that could have made a difference for Haruka on the night she was murdered. Having a gun or pepper spray or even training in self-defense might not have guaranteed her safety. But walking with someone, we believe, would have been the most visible and safe deterrent.
“Walk With Me” seeks to make walking together the norm on campus. We want students to challenge their peers when they choose not to walk with someone. In the same way that Mothers Against Drunk Driving taught us all that “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk,” we seek to change behavior so that students might be less likely to be victimized on or off campus. “Walk With Me” can be as simple as walking with a friend or walking with an escort from the SURE Walk program. It can mean using campus transportation services to get home or get to one’s car.
There is a bigger meaning and intention behind this aspect of “Walk With Me.” It is this: we all have a responsibility to look out for one another. It means when students go to a party, they make sure that no one gets into a situation where they could be raped or assaulted; it means receiving bystander intervention training from the university to know how to intervene when something goes wrong. Just like the military teaches young recruits to “leave no soldier behind” or to promise one another “I’ve got your back,” “Walk with Me” means that students do the same — they leave together, they watch out for each other. “Walk with Me” is not a sign of weakness, it is an act of grace and kindness.
Walk with Haruka’s memory and purpose
Haruka was a talented dancer and student. But those that knew her well know that her success was not because of talent alone, it was also sheer determination and hard work. In life, she always pushed herself, she possessed the inner drive to always give her best effort.
In death, she received a new Buddhist name which translates to mean “Bright Faith.” This is not meant to be a reflection of her qualities in life but rather who she has become for us now. She is a beacon of light and hope, always urging us onward to be the best we can be. This is another facet of “Walk with Me,” that each student will re-dedicate his or herself to their purpose and their future, to live each day to the fullest. In this way, we will always be striving to be our best, to move beyond the pain, beyond the petty, beyond the mundane. Every day is a gift, let us dedicate ourselves to bring the best that is within us into the light, to make this world better.
Walk with us and all who are suffering
The UT community has been incredibly supportive to our family during this time and for that we are grateful. We have been so moved by the outpouring of condolences and prayers from UT students, parents and alumni and even beyond. People with no connection to us or UT continue to send cards and letters.
But since Haruka’s death there have been so many shootings and bombings, acts of violence that threaten the very fabric of our collective humanity. We want to encourage the students at UT to maintain a deep connection with the world around them, to be a part of healing, not destruction. One issue for me is clear: we must work to end the mindset that accepts violence against women, the kind of violence that resulted in at least 150,000 rapes and sexual assaults in 2014 and at least 1 out of 6 women reporting they have been raped or the victim of attempted rape in their lifetime. That is what is reported. We know that is just the tip of the iceberg, that many of these crimes go unreported, especially on college campuses. We must stand together to find ways to counter the violence against women that is so pervasive in our world. As former President Jimmy Carter pointed out in his book, “A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power,” this violence is deeply rooted in our culture, in our politics and even in our religious beliefs that perpetuate both gender inequality and violence. Because it is so ingrained in our culture, it may seem impossible to change. But it must and I believe, one day, it will.
We believe that we cannot counter the forces of violence with more violence, but with love and understanding. Yasuyo and I are thankful that these issues have remained a part of the conversation at UT — the importance of compassion for those who are suffering and the importance of reaching out to the world around us. From the beginning, the University administration, the UTPD and the entire UT community have stood with us, giving us the support we needed and encouraging us to engage in this important work. The commitment that the University has made to the Walk With Me campaign has been tremendous and it is our hope that other universities and communities will join UT in making lasting change.
Haruka did not have enough time to do all that she hoped to accomplish. She graced us with beauty in her dance and in her art. She wanted to continue to dance and inspire. But she was also taking steps to eventually study medicine as a way of contributing in other ways to bring beauty and healing. I know she would have applied that same determination of hers to be the best she could be.
We standing here today can best honor her memory by doing all that we can to help bring an end to violence against women by addressing violence and discrimination in all its forms. We carry on in memory of our loss — yours and ours. May the creator protect each and every one of you on your life journey and fill you with strength, hope and love.