On Jan. 14, 2014, while adventuring in the Corn Islands off the coast of Nicaragua, Ariel Gonzalez (‘09) passed away. A consummate conversationalist with an infectious smile, he dreamed of running a community health clinic in his native Nicaragua. Ariel mused that the clinic would offer modern medical services to the community as well as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu classes.
“We were having a discussion, at one point I said, ‘Why don’t you just open a clinic here, people suffer everywhere?’,” reflected Stephanie Larumbe(‘09).
“ And Ariel said, ‘Well, for me it’s personal. They’re people that I understand’… While there is need everywhere, he felt that his skills were adapted to that place in general and that he would make the biggest impact there …He grew up in Nicaragua. He was a little older when he came to the States, so I guess he grew up with conditions of the people there. And part of it was just wanting to help the people he had seen in poverty abroad.”
A fixture on the New College campus, Ariel greeted most everyone he met with a smile. He would draw his friends into long conversations on Jiu Jitsu, medicine and ethics. An attentive listener, Ariel also indulged other’s passions.
“Ariel was a friend,” Claire Comiskey (‘08) said. “He was someone who I met my first year at New College and he was part of a beautiful group of people who made the first year that we shared together very special and he brought joy and love and intention to every interaction.”
“I didn’t know Ariel that well. We never spoke that much but I felt that the kindness in his eyes was a very strong kindness,” alum Sivens Glaude (‘12) said.
“Whatever I heard about him through friends of friends he seemed like a great person.”
“I came to realize that he not only had a great personality, but he had such a caring attitude about people in general, he always had a smile for everybody,” said Visiting Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies/ Biology Diana Weber. “We would be talking and somebody would walk up and his face would light up. He was a very happy person. He was very happy in life. He was a very caring person. There are a lot of people that are very intelligent but he was so much more. He was the kind of person that we should want to be.”
Ariel studied neurobiology on a pre-medicine track and his thesis was titled, “Gulf War Illness: An Evaluation of Neurological Changes and Learning, Memory, and Anxiety in GWI Mouse Models.”
During his thesis year and after graduating, he worked at the Roskamp Institute which specializes in researching cures for neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders and addictions. The institute created a memorial webpage in memorium for Ariel.
Through his teaching assistantship for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class, Ariel inspired many. He coached students who were struggling during his free time — approaching martial arts in the same way he approached his academic studies — calm on the surface, but with a core of excited energy.
“Ariel was my tutor for Brazillian Ju Jitsu,” Weber. said “ … the reason why I was taking it was because I was being stalked and I asked him to kind of help me learn techniques better because of this. He was very very concerned about what was going on because there had been other attacks so when I was doing the tutoring I had a hard time getting him to take the money. I said, ‘No, no I will pay you. I’m a professor but you’re a student. I’m poor but you are more poor than I am.’ … He would teach me choke holds and how to get out of a bad situation because he was very concerned and later he told me that he and a friend had gone out at night combing the area to see if this guy was around because he was very worried. I was concerned because he did that because it is dangerous. But, I was very touched because he actually cared. I wasn’t his close friend I was a professor and he was actually concerned and cared. That made a big difference to me that he actually cared … a lot of times you think about someone making an impression — you talk about professor’s impacting students, but in this case it was the student that made an impression on the professor.”
“I went to one class or probably two classes of Brazilian Ju Jitsu,” second-year Kay Saffe said. “I was struggling really hard with the art of BJJ because I just kind of thought it was like tackle football whoever tackles the other person wins you know and he really taught me that it was more than just that and he helped me out. I really connected with him because I looked up to him as a person because he was Hispanic and he also wanted to get into medical school which was my goal at one point … I didn’t really know him that well. I spoke Spanish with him sometimes. I just thought he was a really beautiful person.”
The memorial for Ariel was at sunset, his favorite time of day. The sky was overcast as approximately 25 friends, family and acquaintances shared their stories about Ariel in the sunroom of College Hall.
As the sun faded, the group went out to the bayfront. Two floating lanterns, one red and the other yellow, were lit and launched into the air. The strong wind quickly carried them up and over the water. Song filled the air as the flickering light of the lanterns faded into the horizon.
“He loved fire so much,” thesis-student David Smith said. “For a person his age, he already told his mother that should he die early he should be cremated and his ashes be spread at a volcano. He just loved fire.”
“For Ariel, it was so fitting: he was such a ball of fire,” Laraumbe reflected. “That was just the way he was.”
To visit Ariel’s memorial page, set up by the Roskamp Institution, go to http://www.forevermissed.com/ariel-gonzalez/ lifestory#lifestory.