Section: News

Remembering Lucian Li ’26, a ‘man of light’ around Kenyon

Remembering Lucian Li ’26, a ‘man of light’ around Kenyon

Lucian Li ’26 | COURTESY OF KENYON ATHLETICS

Lucian Li ’26 tragically passed away on July 17 at the age of 19 as a result of injuries sustained during a car accident. A beloved son, brother, teammate and friend, Lucian is survived by his parents, Eric Chen-Ta Li and Sarah Popdan; his sister, Calla; his grandparents, Bonnie and Bob Popdan and Gue-Fen Wu and Yu-Chen Li; and the innumerable people whose lives he touched. 

“Lucian is our first-born son,” Li said. “We’ve given him the name meaning ‘the man of light’ in Latin, obviously hoping he will follow the light, which is usually the positive direction, and also he could be the light for people who need help.” From Lucian’s earliest days, he perfectly embodied his name, always spirited and energized by life. “Boy, Lucian was so excited about running,” Li said. “So when he learned crawling, he pretty much skipped walking. He just went straight to running.”

Two months after he was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Lucian and his family moved to Burlington, Vermont. For the next few years, Vermont’s natural beauty and frigid temperatures were the backdrop to Lucian’s childhood. When Lucian was five, Li’s new job brought the family to his birthplace of Taichung, Taiwan. 

“I thought it was important for him to learn the culture and language,” Li said. “He was able to learn the language just because he wanted to play with the kids. He was able to learn in two to three months. I tried to speak Mandarin to him since he was little, but he was never interested. But I realized he was like a dry sponge — he was always kind of soaking in.”

In the classroom in Taiwan, rigid academic structure often landed Lucian, a natural communicator, in trouble. “You’re not supposed to speak much in the classroom,” Li said. “Lucian is the kid who always had a question and liked to chime in… We always joke about how he always got to sit in a corner because that’s where all the bad kids were sitting.” Still, Lucian found comfort in his English classes, particularly since his mother was one of the teachers at his school.

Lucian’s ability to connect with those around him shone through again when he and his family returned to Lancaster before he began fifth grade. “He was able to fit in; he was able to make friends right away,” Li said. As Lucian grew up, his love for others was apparent to everyone who entered his orbit. Li described Lucian as “the best son, the best grandson.” 

In Lancaster, Lucian found his love for lacrosse after a neighbor suggested he pick up the sport. While lacrosse brought Lucian to the Hill, his magnetic personality and enthusiasm for others allowed him to find community wherever he ventured at Kenyon.

Lead Instructor and Director of Introductory Labs in Biology Jennifer McMahon first met Lucian as a Kenyon Educational Enrichment Program (KEEP) scholar. “He wasn’t necessarily the leader, and he wasn’t necessarily the quiet one. He wasn’t the loud one,” she said. “But he was the one that always worked well with everybody else. It didn’t matter who his research partner was … It was always a good match.” 

As Lucian’s advisor, McMahon saw him grow as an intended biology major with aspirations for medical school. “He took bio[logy] lab across the hall from me, so I got to see him quite a bit coming and going from class,” she said. “He brought a lot of energy and community into the lab classroom, and I heard that from his instructor.” Always looking to inspire connection and uplift others, McMahon remembered when Lucian encouraged his classmates to wear formal wear to give their final presentations: “He liked to do these things, but he also liked to bring along people with him, because I think he really felt like the more, the merrier.”

McMahon described how Lucian bettered every group he was a part of, an experience echoed by Sasha Pauline Fanny-Holston, Program Director for KEEP and Assistant Director for the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. “[H]e was a very thoughtful and generous friend who was genuinely interested in getting to know everyone and made sure to stop and say hi to them on Middle Path, at the Lowry Center or in Peirce [Dining Hall],” she wrote in an email to the Collegian

No moment of kindness was too small for Lucian — Fanny-Holston fondly remembered how Lucian went out of his way to let her know that Peirce had made her favorite lemon sugar sandwich cookies. Lucian’s use of food as a bridge between people stemmed from time spent cooking with his father. “I always reminded him, regardless of how happy, how sad you are, food can always bring people together,” Li said.

Even years removed from his time in Taiwan, Lucian never forgot his heritage. McMahon remembered his appreciation for the time he spent in Taiwan and the chance he had to learn Mandarin. Li was eternally proud of how his son married his two backgrounds. “He has this Taiwanese side which is very respectful… Always think of others, he always opened doors for the ladies, all these things he’s learned from Taiwan,” he said. “And on the west side, he learned how to have fun, how to express himself among his friends and how to care for others and not [be] shy… to share feelings of love toward the girl he likes.”

Across all facets of his Kenyon experience, Lucian was remembered as selfless. “He defined his day by how well people around him are doing,” Vice President of Student Affair Celestino Limas said. “That is something that was both beautiful and a source of great comfort to a lot of people for their Kenyon experience.”

Lucian’s teammates Owen Breen ’26 and Luke Riney ’26 both saw firsthand his willingness to put others first. “He probably put off his own stuff to help others,” Breen said. Riney agreed: “He definitely put off his own stuff to help others … No matter what he would do, he would just approach you with happiness, and it’s something super beautiful.”

Whether on campus or on lacrosse trips, Lucian always brought his teammates and friends together. As his roommate on overnight trips, Riney remembered a night when he and Lucian spoke for hours in their room. “It was just so nice to have someone to talk to for that long, and, especially because my first year in college, I wasn’t super, super close with anyone, and it made me feel super at home to be able to talk with someone for that amount of time,” he said. “And I remember hearing his laugh and just imagining his smile in my head that night.”

Lucian was a fixture of Breen’s room in McBride Residence Hall: “One night, I walked in and he was doing his homework. One night, he was playing with some weird, little game I had on my desk. One night, I came in and he was listening to TV on volume 99.” For Breen, Lucian’s presence meant that a good time would follow.

Lucian was equally beloved as a teammate, bouncing around the locker room or the sidelines, always looking to make someone smile. “He gave effort every day, the highest effort,” Head Coach Doug Misarti said. “I think he had a very bright future on the field, but he made everybody better. He was just that kind of person.” 

Always developing as a lacrosse player, Lucian scored his first goal against Wabash College in a 26-4 victory. Even when achieving his own dreams, Lucian brought joy to those around him. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a sideline eruption quite like that,” Misarti said. “Everybody was really happy for him.” For Breen and Riney, Lucian’s goal was pure Lucian. Shooting from more than 20 yards away, his teammates couldn’t believe it when Lucian let his shot fly. “And then it goes in,” Breen said. “And it just became a mosh pit on the sidelines.” Riney was one of the first people to reach Lucian after his goal: “He had the biggest smile on his face… He was so out of breath, he couldn’t even talk.”

Throughout every chapter of Lucian’s life, those who knew him remembered his legacy of kindness and light. Li found comfort in the fact that, even after leaving the nest, Lucian still told stories of his family to his friends at Kenyon. “When people asked Lucian about Calla, he was always proud to show Calla’s artwork on his phone,” he said. Lucian told friends and those closest to him about trips to get ice cream and play golf, leaving Li and Popdan proud of the young man they raised: “We had a wonderful trip to Japan and Taiwan before the accident, and I feel he came back from college freshman year to become an even better young adult.”

Despite the profound loss that all of Lucian’s communities have experienced since his passing, Li hopes that everyone who was impacted by his life can try to ‘live for Lucian.’ “Living for Lucian is really just three simple things, which is being kind, helping others and having fun,” he said. Lucian’s family began the #LiveForLucian campaign to help establish scholarships for those who embody Lucian’s spirit. 

Around Kenyon’s campus and across the world, Lucian’s light still shines, even though he is no longer walking down Middle Path or through the locker rooms of the Lowry Center. The communities Lucian helped to build will make certain that his memory will always be present and that everyone can work to Live For Lucian.

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