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The Dartmouth
March 4, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Willis-Starbuck '07 remembered by friends

Students, faculty and staff gathered Monday to remember and celebrate the life of Meleia Willis-Starbuck '07, who was murdered in Berkeley, Calif., this summer.

Purple and pink balloons declaring "Happy Birthday!" decorated the chapel while Freddie Jackson's "You Are My Lady" played in the background during what would have been Willis-Starbuck's 20th birthday.

Dean of the Tucker Foundation Stuart Lord opened the event and explained its purpose.

"We ask questions like, 'Why? Why her? Why now?' Hearts grieve, spirits mourn and our souls ache. We are not here to find the answers to these questions, but what we can do is celebrate," Lord said.

The theme of the memorial service was repeatedly enforced as guests referred to the services as a "homecoming celebration" and a "party in her honor." At the end of the celebration, Janice Cundey, a Dartmouth Partners in Community Service board member, announced the establishment of the Meleia Willis-Starbuck Memorial Award for Citizenship and Social Justice.

The scholarship will fund students who volunteer or work full time during their leave terms for organizations committed to equity, as Willis-Starbuck did, Cundey said.

College President James Wright urged attendees to celebrate Willis-Starbuck's life and to gain inspiration from it.

"The imprints of her spirit are cast upon our campus, and the imprints continue to cast a shadow over us," Wright said.

One of Willis-Starbuck's friends, a tearful Amber Kelsie '07, said her friend "got into [people], under their skin."

Willis-Starbuck's mother, Kimberly, told a story about her daughter's first protest. Five-years-old and seated on her father's shoulders, Willis-Starbuck held up a sign at a rally against the Gulf War that read, "Meleia says no more war."

"She wanted to see the world change to be a better place for all," Kimberly Willis-Starbuck said.

Many of Willis-Starbuck's Berkeley friends came to support the Dartmouth event, including her high school teacher Rick Ayers and her best friend Mercedes Hong. Hong named her newborn child after Willis-Starbuck.

There was a reception at the Cutter-Shabazz House following the service.

Jonathan Lesesne '07 kicked off his "48 hours of chaos," to celebrate both their birthdays this week.

Starbuck was killed in Berkeley in July after reportedly asking her alleged shooter, Christopher Hollis, to "bring the heat" after what Hollis' lawyer termed "verbal trash-talking" between Willis-Starbuck and her five female friends.

Hollis pleaded not guilty to murder and is currently being held without bail. Hollis' defense lawyer, John Burris, said Hollis did not intend to hurt anyone and would request a hearing to obtain a realistic bail. Chirstopher Wilson, the alleged getaway driver, is free on $326,000 bail.