In Memoriam: Katherine Hass

Katherine Hass, a first-year
student at Claremont McKenna College, died Feb. 19 in a scuba diving accident
in Point Lobos, Calif. Katherine was a beloved community member, deeply caring
friend, passionate student and friendly face throughout her time at CMC, and is
remembered lovingly by students and faculty.

“She was just a
really giving and thoughtful person, which I know is something that so many
people felt,” said Isabella Speciale CM ’17, Katherine’s first-year sponsor. “Everyone I’ve talked to was so awestruck by how caring and loving
she was.”

From the beginning of her time at
CMC, Katherine brightened the days of people around her and was deeply
committed to her friendships.

She was “always helpful; always willing to help; always willing to offer advice or friendly words or just
a smile,” Speciale said.

CMC Professor Robert Valenza, who taught Katherine in her Freshman Humanities
Seminar, also noted her innate receptiveness to the world and people in her

“Those receptors were at
maximum sensitivity the whole time,” Valenza said. “[Katherine was] a
really wonderful person. It’s hard to express that kind of

“If there really are angels
on earth, I suppose that would have been a good job title for her,”
Valenza added.

In her interactions both in the
classroom and in conversations with friends, Katherine carried with her a
profound sense of selflessness and care, noted by many who spoke to their
experiences with her.

“Her way of looking at the
world and the people in the world was to say, ‘My first responsibility is to
understand you,'” Valenza said.

Valenza explained that while
first-year students are often hesitant to engage in the first-person
writing style the class encourages, Katherine fell easily into a narrative

“She went immediately to things
that mattered to her and why they mattered to her,” Valenza said. “I have to
say, the thing I had to come to terms with was the enormous sense
of grace that she had that was communicated in that writing.”

“I’ve had a lot of students for
one semester, and the first question I asked myself was, why did she get so
important to me so quickly?” Valenza added. “I think that the measure of grace that she had was so exemplary; I wish
that I could be more like that.”

Katherine, originally from Palo Alto, Calif., was passionate about learning and loved her classes at the Claremont
Colleges. She especially enjoyed her classes in Latin and philosophy and was
interested in pursuing a major in the sciences.

At CMC, Katherine attended weekly
Senate meetings and was a mentor for UnCommon Good, a tutoring program at the
CMC Center for Civic Engagement. In addition to her love of school and
commitment to her studies, she also enjoyed midnight trips to the Motley
Coffeehouse, attending sports games at the 5Cs and spending time with friends.

Katherine’s roommate, Katherine
Daifotis CM ‘18, first got to know Katherine during their Welcome Orientation
Adventure (WOA) first year trip and was close to her throughout their time as

Daifotis explained that through
exploring the 5Cs, often together, Katherine became friends with and enjoyed
the company of many different people.

“I know that she wasn’t here that
long, but I think a lot of people knew her a little bit,” Daifotis said. “She was really adventurous. She always surprised me.”

Katherine was also a long-time
scuba diver and had training as a certified instructor.

At the time of her passing,
Katherine was surrounded by friends and doing one of the things she loved most
in the world. According to a statement from her high school, the Castilleja
School, she and three of her fellow divers had checked their equipment prior to
their dive in Point Lobos. An unknown accident occurred at the beginning of her
dive, causing her to lose consciousness, and Katherine spent the following days
at the Intensive Care Unit in Monterey, Calif.

“We are
deeply saddened by the loss of this young, vibrant member of our community,”
CMC President Hiram Chodosh wrote in an email to the student body Feb. 20. “Katherine had
made many friends on campus with her sense of humor and kind disposition.”

Ben Turner CM ’16, her WOA trip
leader, shared a letter he wrote in memory of Katherine on Facebook, expressing
his admiration of her spirit and deep gratitude for having known her.

“I will always remember
Katherine’s bravery. She was kind, she was funny and she was most of all
brave,” Turner wrote. “Her courage and fearlessness are what make me
so proud to have known her.”

Speciale, who became close to Katherine as her sponsor, spoke about Katherine’s positive attitude and
ability to look forward to the future with a wisdom beyond her years.

“People tend to tiptoe around
things a lot … and she was definitely the kind of person who wanted to be like, ‘How
can we move on? How we can handle this?’” Speciale said. “She was kind of
person who took everything in stride. She was really strong in that regard.”

“She was probably the most mature
person I’ve ever met at that age,” Speciale added.

Though Katherine was on a leave
of absence at the time of her passing, she left a meaningful impact on all
those who knew her during her semester at CMC.

“I think that her education for
her was in service of enhancing that inborn gift she had for
understanding other people and, by means of that understanding, making their
lives better and the world better. I think that’s what she wanted to do,”
Valenza said. “And if she had had the length of life that she deserved, there
would have been thousands and thousands of people that would have been touched
by her.”

Friends of Katherine, fellow
students and CMC staff have organized a candlelight vigil in celebration of her
life to be held today, March 6 at 6 p.m. in the courtyard between Heggblade and
International Place at CMC.

Katherine is survived by her
parents, Tracy and Eric Hass.

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