April 07, 2015
T. Sydnor Kerns ’17
Since our founding, Hampden-Sydney College has sought "to form good men and good citizens." That mission epitomized William Caleb Wharton '16, so it was a tragedy when family, friends, and the community learned of his death on November 2, 2014. However, this loss of a dear friend came with a blessing: we were all shown more clearly what it means to be a Hampden-Sydney Man and to live within our brotherhood. With the help of this brotherhood, Caleb's family and friends made the transition from tragedy to the celebration of his life.
According to President Chris Howard, brotherhood is "a commitment to love each other, especially during difficult times, even when you don't like each other. [...] We are bonded in a way that is shown when things aren't going well. When there is a challenge [...] people [in a brotherhood] tend to come together." As the news of Caleb's death spread, his fraternity brothers began to gather at the SAE house. At a school so close and so small, news spreads quickly. Friends, family, teammates, coaches, and faculty gathered also. Everybody came by to spread their unconditional love out of respect for Caleb, their fallen brother, and to support those in mourning.
In the days following Caleb's death, I had people approach me, some of whom I could not even name, and give me their personal condolences because that is what being a Hampden-Sydney Man is about, showing respect for those around you and always having each others back. The Chi Phi fraternity flew an SAE flag out of respect for our loss and presented it to us later with signatures from each brother, a small act of kindness that went a long way. The greatest display of Hampden-Sydney brotherhood was on Friday, November 7, 2014, as people gathered at St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Richmond for Caleb's memorial service. "You could not turn without seeing a Hampden-Sydney student, alumnus, or parent," said President Howard. Guys were "emotionally there for the family"-that of the Wharton's and that of Hampden-Sydney too.
Brotherhood is a process. The relationships on campus don't build overnight. It begins with friendship among a group and then, within that group, overcoming the ups and downs of life. At Hampden-Sydney we have sports teams, fraternities, clubs, dormitories, class-wide gatherings, and events, all of which aim to form good men and good citizens. These friendships transform into brotherhood as we go through experiences together. The relationships between students and faculty provide support, as Assistant Dean of Students Richard Pantele '13 said, "The most important thing for me is providing support for students" no matter what the circumstance may be. Although it is not always obvious, our daily actions eventually morph into school-wide connections that become apparent in challenging times.
This year, the brothers of SAE, with the help of the College, held two events to honor Caleb. The first was the inaugural "Eat a Peanut" oyster roast in the fall. Over 500 people stopped by the SAE house that day with smiles on their faces, not thinking about death, but about how great life is and how Caleb made the most of his time with us. The brothers of SAE raised $7,000 for the Food and Allergy Research Center in recognition of Caleb's highly dangerous peanut allergy. The second event, which occurred on March 28th, was a fundraiser for the Caleb Wharton Memorial Scholarship. With a buffet of barbecue courtesy of The Fishin' Pig and live music provided by The Rhythm Pigs, the event was quite a success. Those who gathered didn't come just to donate money; they came so that Caleb's legacy would live on at Hampden-Sydney. President Howard said events like this "aren't about the money; they're about honoring spirit." He continued by saying, "Caleb's the type of guy who would come back for the games and reunions," a statement that could not be more true. The event was not only a reminder of the memories Caleb left behind, but also a reminder of why Hampden-Sydney is such a special place.
From the memorial services to the fundraisers, this is only the beginning. Caleb died less than a year ago. Some days it feels like it happened yesterday, and others seem like it was an eternity ago. Either way, we have had 1,000 brothers supporting each other through this difficult time. Here at Hampden-Sydney, we all love each other, and the events of this year have proven that to us all. In the event of a tragedy like the death of a friend, you are comforted by the love of the ones who surround you and are always there to pick you back up. We love you Caleb. Every day that passes by, you are remembered and we remember that we are one day closer to seeing you again. You will be in our hearts forever, and now, your name will live on at Hampden-Sydney in the form of a scholarship, giving another person the opportunity to join this community-this brotherhood.