Adam Wright '17 remembered for warmth
Despite studying four languages throughout his life, Adam Wright ’17 didn’t have to say many words to make you feel welcome. To his friends and family, his smile conveyed all of his warmth.
“He had a smile that — you’re talking to his father, so I’m a little biased – that seemed to light up the room,” Jim Wright Tu’93 said. “That warm, wonderful smile I think is something that we have etched in our memories right now.”
On Jan. 30, Wright’s body was found near the Connecticut River after being reported missing the day before. The cause of death is still undetermined, though a preliminary investigation revealed no foul play is involved, according to a Hanover Police Department press release. He was 21.
Wright’s friend and brother at Beta Alpha Omega fraternity Steffen Eriksen ’17 will remember, above all else, the warmth of Wright’s friendship and the half-grin Wright got on his face when he poked fun at his friends.
“At a school where people take themselves very seriously, often too seriously, Adam had the unique ability to lighten a situation and to make people, in spite of whatever stresses they are feeling, feel relaxed and comfortable and happy,” Eriksen said.
Eriksen first met Wright when they lived in the Choates residence halls as freshmen. As Eriksen was from California and Wright was from Pennsylvania, Wright immediately started making fun of the West Coast, claiming that the East Coast was better. Yet at the same time, he would always check up on his friends.
“He loved to be a joking individual,” Eriksen said. “[He] poked fun at individuals ... but was also an intensely caring and passionate friend who wanted to be a strong source of support for those he cared about.”
When imagining Wright, Eriksen sees him standing in a group of three or four people, “all of whom are at least six inches short than him,” with his leg half extended. He is involved in the conversation but not actively participating. Every once in awhile, he will throw in a sarcastic comment, causing everyone, including the person he is making fun of, to start cracking up.
Academically, Wright had an insatiable thirst for knowledge. A government major, he became fluent in French and Spanish in high school and picked up Mandarin and Japanese during his time at the College, his father said. James Wright, Wright’s grandfather and Dartmouth president emeritus, agreed.
“He loved international studies, but he also really understood that you really need to understand the language and the people to really become familiar with another culture,” his grandfather said.
Wright began taking French in middle school and soon began trying to communicate with his father in the language.
“He would speak some French to me after taking it for a year or two and see if I could understand him, and of course I couldn’t remember anything.” Jim Wright said.
According to his father, Wright’s affinity for languages became most apparent when he talked his way into Advanced Placement Spanish in high school despite no prior knowledge of the language.
“Adam decided that he wanted to take [AP Spanish] his junior year in high school,” his father said. “After we signed his course card, he went to the Spanish teacher and convinced her to sign off on his ability to take the class.”
Wright hid his report card from his parents so that they would not know he was in the class — they only learned of his enrollment after they called the school to ask about his grades.
He ended up receiving a 5, the highest possible score, on his AP Spanish exam.
While his grandfather once served as the College’s president and his father and older brother, Zachary Wright ’15, are both alumni, Wright was never pressured into coming to Dartmouth.
“He came here for Dimensions weekend and that sold him, as over the years it seems to have sold any of a number of students,” James Wright said. “He had a very good experience here and clearly was always pleased he came here.”
Jim Wright said Wright was so excited to come to Dartmouth that he planned out his four years once he received his course catalog. He did not follow a specific path, but instead continued to explore new ideas.
“Last year he was taking a physics course and loved it so much that he said he should’ve been a physics major instead of a government major,” his father said.
Wright’s interests took him all over the globe. His freshman summer, he helped a Chilean senator with tax legislation in South America. Jim Wright said that his son, only 19 years old at the time, coordinated the entire trip on his own. He had secured a grant from the John Sloan Dickey Center, negotiated a lease in Spanish, signed up for cable television and learned how to navigate the city. According to his grandfather, Wright set off “without knowing anybody in Chile — not knowing how to get from the airport to where he was going and using Airbnb to find a place.”
“While we were a little nervous about him going on this internship, in the end, we thought this might have been the best thing because it takes a lot of confidence and maturity to do all this,” his father said.
At first, Jim Wright said he had hoped his son would not end up going to Chile but later was “so proud of him.” Wright later traveled to Paris for a foreign study program with the French program, arriving shortly after the Charlie Hebdo shootings. Wright’s curiosity continued to drive his motivation to pursue a new language even in his senior year. He was learning Japanese, which, according to his father, was his favorite class.
“He wanted to take Japanese because – I’m quoting him here – it is one of the most difficult languages to learn,” Jim Wright said. “Who wants to do that as a senior? Well, Adam did.”
Wright was planning on going to Japan this summer to help solidify what he had learned this year.
“In many ways, he probably wished he had more time in college because there were so many other classes that he would have liked to have taken,” his father said.
He had the ability to put others at ease, no matter who they were, Eriksen said, as he never took himself too seriously. At the same time, he could match his attitude to his setting, taking on leadership roles — he served as a co-president of the International Business Council during his junior year — and making those he was around feel comfortable and happy to be there.
“He wasn’t like the kind of quiet person that you would find hard to approach,” said Hung Nguyen ’18, one of the current co-presidents of IBC. “He always seemed really present, and always sitting there smiling, real friendly and everything.”
Aidan Sarazen ’19, another current co-president of IBC, was one of many who felt welcomed by Wright. Sarazen met Wright through IBC during his freshmen fall, and Wright was one of the first upperclassmen he knew on campus.
“He became kind of a mentor to me, in the sense that because he was one of the only upperclassmen I knew, he was the person I went to to ask opinions on professors or classes or other extracurricular activities,” he said.
Though at first they mainly knew one another through the club, Sarazen became closer to Wright during the fall of 2016. Sarazen said Wright gave him guidance on the Greek system and the men’s rush process by telling Sarazen about his own positive experiences stepping outside of his comfort zone to join Beta.
Alexander Wolf ’18 said he met Wright as a freshman while Wolf was struggling with adjusting socially and academically at the College.
Wolf recalled one night at Beta during his freshman year when he was standing by himself, not knowing anyone there, and Wright approached him and started a conversation. Though Wolf had previously felt uncomfortable going to fraternities, Wright made him feel welcome.
“We had a really long, good conversation,” he said. “It felt really good to me that I had a friend.”
Wright had close connections to all of the organizations that he was affiliated with.
“Adam loved his [First-Year] trip,” James Wright said. “He loved his first-year friends, and he was very, very fond of Beta.”
Wright’s grandfather added that despite the snowy weekend weather and the Winter Carnival festivities, 20 to 25 brothers from Beta attended Wright’s funeral service in Paoli, Pennsylvania on Saturday.
“There was a picture that somebody sent to us of a number of them circling arms in the parking lot following the service and singing the alma mater,” his grandfather said. “Adam would’ve loved that. He would’ve joined them in singing.”
On Wednesday, Feb. 1, all fraternities in the Interfraternity Council closed for the night and Beta hosted a moment of silence and a singing of the alma mater in Wright’s honor. Memorial services at Dartmouth will be held on March 28 at 5:30 p.m. in Rollins Chapel, followed by a reception at the Top of the Hop in the Hopkins Center for the Arts.
John Ling ’17, who served as an IBC co-president alongside Wright, said that Wright was a partner, friend and someone he looked forward to seeing each week. They met four years ago when they both joined IBC during their freshman year. Ling had fond memories of his time at IBC in large part due to Wright’s presence.
“He made me a more ... optimistic person in general,” Ling said. “[He taught me to] take things, you know with a good heart.”
Ling said that Wright made him try to be more welcoming to people, as Wright’s own openness was central to the social atmosphere at IBC.
Sarazen echoed Ling’s comments that Wright was a welcoming leader.
“When I think of being a club member, in any sense, in any club, I think back to when I was a club member and when Adam was the president,” Sarazen said. “He’s what I associate with a club president here at Dartmouth ... and as the president of IBC now, I try to emulate his actions and like his demeanor as a president because it made me feel so included and comfortable.”
George Cheng ’19, another current IBC co-president, said that one of the biggest changes Wright brought to the club was making it more inclusive. He removed the club’s application process and opened up meetings to all members of the Dartmouth community, which led to greater participation and more lively discussions. He also focused on improving the quality of the club’s presentations.
“I feel like even today, when he is no longer president, I feel like the impacts of his initiatives are still very visible in IBC,” Nguyen said.
Wright left behind a legacy to Dartmouth in the form of his relationships. His activities in his fraternity, his time spent with his friends and his time spent in student organizations created a lasting impression on campus, Eriksen said.
“He touched so many parts of campus,” Eriksen said. “Not only through the things he was involved in, be it [Beta, IBC], or be it working in the dishroom, which is probably not something you would expect of the grandson of a former president of the College, but just his ability to really connect with anyone he met, in any type of social setting, in any type of vocational setting. His legacy will be the friendship that he shared with so many of us.”
Wright’s grandfather echoed Wright’s impact on others.
“I’ve been [at Dartmouth] since 1969 ... and yet I think that having a grandson like Adam here and experiencing what he experienced really gave me a whole new understanding of the richness of the place and the nature of the experience for students,” James Wright said. “My wife Susan, his grandmother, and I just really enjoyed our time with him, loved him a lot, and we miss him a lot.”
Eriksen is a former member of The Dartmouth staff.
Updated March 20: included date of the memorial service at Dartmouth