COMMUNICATION FACULTY— The students, faculty, and staff of Denison University are deeply saddened by the death of Tianyue Li and offer our sincere condolences to her family. Although the most acute loss is theirs, we share in their grief and will greatly miss Tianyue and her contributions to our community.
Who was Tianyue at Denison? Her instructors in her major department, Communication, remember her as a “brilliant, diligent, and hard-working student” who “always had interesting insights into how our examples and theories applied in different contexts, such as in her home in China.” In class, she was an attentive listener who also raised thoughtful questions and comments for her classmates to engage. One of her professors remembered the many one-on-one mini-conversations he had with her during class, in which the mutual interest and intellectual excitement between teacher and student temporarily took over the discussion.
Another professor wrote, “I had her in my 200-level writing class on the rhetoric of space in 2016. Tianyue was a student who was very curious about her cultural surroundings. She embodied the spirit of open-mindedness towards other cultural spaces and students alike. For instance, in my class, she took great pleasure learning about the local history of Newark by being a detailed observer when she visited local museums. The Sherwood-Davidson House and The Webb House museums, in Newark, were her favorites, and you could see her delight in learning how this local community chose to remember its past, as well as how people used to live in the previous two centuries.”
She consistently showed great perseverance and self-accountability. As one instructor recalled, “I required reading responses to be submitted every week. Since it’s not a ‘graded’ assignment, many students’ responses quickly turned shorter and less thoughtful as time progressed. Hers were always consistently well-thought-out and carefully crafted throughout the semester.”
Her written work was impressive, with one professor singling out her paper on “Language Attitude and Second Language Proficiency under Cross-Cultural Contexts,” in which she tied concepts from the class to her personal language-learning experiences.
Her high standards and work ethic were matched by her intellectual curiosity and desire to learn. This thirst for knowledge was reflected in her classroom presence—one professor noted that she was only absent one time due to sickness—but it also extended beyond the courses. Several faculty mentioned that she would often come to their offices to talk with them during her free time, just because she wanted to learn more.
Outside of class, her intercultural openness came through in her desire to serve as an orientation leader for international students. A teacher who wrote a letter of recommendation for her for that experience remembered, “I was so impressed by how she tailored her vita especially for it—most students just include their CV. Tianyue, instead, was showing in the care she took with that one-page document and her selection of what to feature, how attuned she was of her audience.”
Another professor emphasized how very grateful she was for Tianyue’s willingness to volunteer to participate in a GLCA research project. “She was one of the first few international student participants I had,” this instructor wrote. “I am very appreciative of her help.”
However, what we will remember—and miss—the most was her glowing personality. Wrote one of her professors, “Whenever I ran into her on the hallway or in the dining hall, she always wore a smile. She might be soft-spoken sometimes, but I appreciated her radiance and heart-warming energy that she gave out.” When you spoke with her, she had a way of making you feel joyous and special. As one professor put it, “That was one of her greatest gifts—to attend to each person or group in their specificity and take lots of care with how she addressed them. This sensitivity to others and to finding the best way to address them really set her apart—she was a very careful and also a very warm communicator.”
In summary, we are grieving a fantastic student who modeled excellence in and out of the classroom, as well as a wonderful person who brought so much light and love to the people around her. She is certainly missed dearly.