Students mourn passing of three peers
By Jennifer Supernaw
While settling in and preparing to resume their studies this fall, Yale
undergraduates are also trying to cope with the loss of three classmates over
Matthew Koppel, BR '98, took his own life on Tues., July 29, after battling
depression for several years. Students and faculty will remember Koppel for his
warmth, enthusiasm, and concern for others. A rising senior majoring in
Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, Koppel planned to pursue a career in
medical research and was considering attending medical school in Cambridge. He
was also a member of the Progressive Party, and recently helped match incoming
Branford freshmen with big sibs.
Branford Master Steven Smith commented that "Matt will be remembered here as a
gifted student who was deeply involved in all aspects of the life of the
college." He worked on the Branford Carillon and helped to organize last
spring's Golden CAF festivities. In addition, Koppel was deeply committed to
preserving his college's history.
Koppel wrote the College history found in the introduction of the 1996
Branford Directory. He also located numerous Branford pamphlets, newspapers,
and yearbooks, some of which had been lost for decades, and convinced
University administrators to return some archives to the college. According to
Eric Adelizzi, BR '98, who worked with Koppel on his historical research, "Matt
described himself as master of `college history, lore, and arcana.' [He] was
Branford's unofficial resident historian."
Smith described Koppel's death as a loss that "shows the fragility of the
college." Branford Dean Nicole Parisier said that a memorial service will be
held in Koppel's honor on Tues., Sept. 16.
On Fri., May 23, Shea Grogan, TD '98, was killed in a plane crash over
Shawnee, Oklahoma, that also claimed the lives of both her parents.
Grogan was actively involved in Yale organizations and community service. She
volunteered for SMArT, a program aimed at increasing middle school students'
interest in math and science. According to Suzanne Flynn, TD '98, "Kids
absolutely adored her." A member of the Chickasaw tribe, Grogan was also
involved in the Association of Native Americans at Yale.
Friends were impressed by Grogan's wide range of artistic talents. Lukejohn
Day, TD '98, reflected on Grogan's love for painting, drawing, and sculpture,
stating that she had organized the TD art show for the past two years.
Grogan's friends were touched by her outgoing and warm personality. "Shea was
a very compassionate and uninhibited person. She lived life to the fullest and
never let anything hold her back," Flynn said.
According to Merrill Dobson, TD '00, "She was the kind of person with a
tremendous personality who could immediately light up a room just by walking
According to Day, Shea "was a very caring and loving person. She wrote notes
and gave momentos to let you know she was thinking of you. She was a beautiful
person inside and out." Day noted that the TD master and dean are planning a
memorial service to be held in late September.
On Fri., Aug. 8, Ken Yamaoka, ES '99, was involved in a fatal car crash when
he swerved to avoid a deer and collided with an oncoming truck. Yamaoka had
been driving to his job at a Hudson River Valley raptor center, where he worked
According to Ezra Stiles Master Paul Fry, Yamaoka was dedicated to
environmental preservation and had been interested in the traditional art of
falconry since his childhood. A lover of the outdoors, he was an avid fly
fisherman and mountain biker. Yamaoka participated actively in community
service projects, and hoped to become a doctor.
Friends say Yamaoka was an empathatic, understanding person who was always
willing to listen and ready to offer sound advice. "Ken was a wonderful person
to talk to," a close friend recalled. "I spent many a late night studying with
him. We spent most of the time procrastinatng and talking about friendships,
classes, and life."
According to Fry, Yamaoka had a broad circle of acquaintances both within and
outside his residential college. "Ken was admired and well liked by everyone
who knew him," Fry said.
Fry added that a memorial ceremony is currently being planned in consultation
with Yamaoka's mother.
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