In Memoriam: Tristan Witte HM '18 Remembered for Compassionate Spirit
Diane Lee | Sept. 16, 2016, 10:02 a.m.
Remembered by friends and family for his warm generosity to those around him and his easygoing Californian attitude and lifestyle, Tristan Witte HM ’18 passed away in a car accident July 15.
Witte was driving with his childhood friend JJ Adkisson, a graphic design student at the California Institute of the Arts, to pick up friends at Harvey Mudd College on their way to Joshua Tree National Park. Adkisson and Witte were 20 years old.
Witte, an engineering major, was known in the HMC community for always having his door open to anyone who needed a compassionate ear.
“He's one of the kind of people that you can just go to to talk about anything,” Michelle Lanterman HM ’18, a close friend of Witte's, said. “He's really understanding and will genuinely want to help you.”
Wendy Menefee-Libey, the Director of Learning Programs who oversees the HMC Writing Center where Witte worked as a writing consultant, recalled a time when students in her first-year writing class wanted to know when Witte would be working in the Writing Center.
“I thought, he's got groupies, he's got Writing Center groupies,” Menefee-Libey said. “I'm sure some of it was the hair and some of it was maybe the pink paisley leggings that he liked to wear. Some of it was because he was, for all the outward appearance stuff, he was dead serious about this. He was dead serious about his own work, and he took other people very seriously. And he had a gentle enthusiasm. He was warm, and he was gentle with his consultees, but pretty incisive and pretty candid.”
“There really aren't words to describe what kind of an enormous personal loss [this is]” Menefee-Libey said. “We've been cheated.”
Born and raised in San Rafael, a northern California coastal town, Witte loved being outdoors, especially the beach. Witte was planning on leading an Orientation Adventure trip to Venice Beach in late August for members of HMC’s incoming class.
Witte was also a musician who played the guitar, drums, and “basically anything he picked up,” Lanterman said. Witte enjoyed listening to indie and folk music. Lanterman, Witte, and their friends talked about forming a reggae band with the goal of performing just one show.
A joint memorial service was held for Adkisson and Witte on Aug. 13 in a local church in San Rafael. Guests were encouraged to wear “colorful surfer wear and flip-flops, stylish hipster wear, or a funky combination of both,” paying homage to the two friends’ fashion styles, according to the Facebook memorial page. Food trucks served tacos and Mediterranean fare to guests, and the small church, where Adkisson and Witte met as children, could barely contain the crowd of over a thousand people.
“It was a party they would have had fun at,” Witte's mother, Irmgard Witte, said. “We really wanted them to walk in at some point and go, ‘This is really cool, what are you guys doing?’"
Friends and family said that Witte loved being a part of the HMC community.
"You could just tell that he had found his people, and felt really comfortable there,” Witte said. "He said, ‘I absolutely want to be here, I would not want to be anywhere else.’ He never wavered from that. [Tristan] was 100% confident that he had made the right choice, and he was where he wanted to be."
After the accident, the Witte family received from Witte’s high school teacher a voice recording of Witte reading a personal essay he wrote in his senior year. The recording of the essay titled “It is what it is” was played at the memorial services in San Rafael as well as the memorial service at HMC on Aug. 31. T-shirts were made with the phrase “IT IS WHAT IT IS” printed on the front and passed out to attendees at the HMC memorial service.
“His laid-back attitude was definitely a reflection of that,” Lanterman said. “I think it might have been taken that he doesn't care a lot of the times just because he wouldn't get super upset if something went wrong or he didn't get something his way. But it was more just him accepting that it had happened and trying to move forward.”
Witte is survived by his parents, Marcus and Irmgard Witte, and his younger sister, Peyton.