Friends mourn the loss of 'selfless' junior

by Kelsey Blodget | 12/13/04 6:00am

WEB UPDATE, Dec. 13, 2:11 p.m.

After a year-long battle with lymphoma, Lindsay Della Serra '06 passed away at her home in Cranford, N.J., on Nov. 30.

Friends and relatives remember Della Serra, a double-major in Spanish and History, tutor, mentor to middle-school girls in Vermont and member of Delta Delta Delta sorority and the College Republicans, as caring, down-to-earth and driven.

Though Della Serra was often perceived as shy, Gwen Barnes '06, one of Della Serra's best friends, said Della Serra was remarkably candid once she opened up.

"A funny thing about Lindsay was how completely honest she was," Barnes said. "Some guy she liked, or being hurt by someone -- she'd just come out and say it. Most people would be embarrassed, but it just showed the confidence she had."

Barnes also described Della Serra as always concerned about the well-being of others, and not just in her volunteering activities. Barnes recalled that on her own 20th birthday, Della Serra got into a minor car accident.

"She didn't tell me about it until two days later, because she didn't want to ruin my birthday," Barnes said.

Della Serra also had a way of making you feel like the center of attention when she talked to you, Barnes said.

An aficionado of Jack Kerouac and Sylvia Plath, Della Serra "liked artsy things," according to friend and senior-year prom date Keith Louie, a junior at Johns Hopkins University. She often frequented an eclectic caf in her hometown called Van Gogh's Ear to have intimate one-on-one chats with her friends, he said.

"She was very matter-of-fact, and not afraid to have a meaningful discussion," said Kyle Benn, a close friend who is now a junior at the University of Richmond. "If there was something important or serious or difficult to talk about, she was usually best for that."

At Dartmouth, Barnes said Della Serra liked to go out on weekends, watch movies, cook and venture into Boston on shopping trips.

"She always dressed nice, because she liked it, not because she felt pressured to," Barnes said. "When she got sick and they did the x-rays, I remember I had to hold her pearls. The first thing she asked for were her pearls back after they finished the x-rays."

Della Serra was well put together in every aspect, Barnes added.

"Most people have their day planned out. Lindsay had her entire life planned out," Barnes said.

Even though Della Serra's plans to graduate from Dartmouth and become a lawyer were tragically cut short, Donna Kardos, a junior at the College of New Jersey who knew Della Serra since the first grade, said she feels Della Serra had a sense of fulfillment in her life.

"She got into the Ivy League school of her choice. She had so much fun there, and I'm really happy that she was able to experience those things," she said.

Della Serra, the valedictorian at Cranford High School, had known she wanted to attend Dartmouth since middle school. In the eighth grade her teacher asked students to write letters to their future selves, to be mailed back to them during their senior years of high school.

The first line of Della Serra's letter read: "So, did you get into Dartmouth?" Della Serra received the letter from eighth grade the same day she received her Dartmouth acceptance.

"For all she sacrificed in high school to get where she got, Lindsay had a ball in college," her mother, Diane Della Serra, told the Newark Star Ledger. "She had a ball, and she still did great."

Her professors agree. History professor Walter Simons, whose Medieval Europe course Della Serra took freshman year, remembered her as "quite a brain."

"She was such a delight, always fun to have in class, especially in discussions," Simons said.

Della Serra had applied to be history professor Steven Ericson's Presidential Scholar research assistant last spring, and was one of two chosen out of several applicants. She was planning to work on a project related to the Russo-Japanese war, and Ericson said he had been looking forward to working with her next term.

News of her passing came as a shock to many people, as Della Serra only told close friends of her illness.

Barnes was with Della Serra when she received her diagnosis for lymphoma, or cancer of the lymphatic system, at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center during Winter term of her sophomore year. Aside from Barnes, Della Serra only told her two other close friends at Dartmouth about her cancer. She still hoped to beat the disease, and didn't want people to worry and act differently towards her, Barnes said. When people asked why Della Serra left school, Barnes told them she had mononucleosis.

Throughout her illness, Barnes said Della Serra continually worried about being a burden on people and always kept a positive attitude.

"Lindsay was the most selfless person I've ever known," Barnes said.