I recognize that my blogging has become quite sporadic and inconsistent by this point, and I also recognize that this post has, sadly, very similar content to my last one. But while there is not a whole lot going on in my day-to-day life that compels me to type out my thoughts and publish them in a blog, when someone I can relate to very closely has their life taken away too quickly, that is something that I think is worth writing about.
Angela Mathew was a junior at Harvard. She wrote for the Harvard Crimson. She was studying neurobiology with aspirations of going on to medical school. But how I knew her—the way that I, my former teammates, and thousands of college students across the country could relate so closely to her—was that she was a competitor in college mock trial. Like me, she was a mocker.
While college mock trial may not be the best known or most widely followed of inter-collegiate activities, to those who compete in, coach, or follow mock trial teams, mockers make up a strangely tight-knit community. Because there are only so many schools with mock trial teams, and those teams are often on tight travel budgets, the tournaments that teams attend often pit the same squads against each other time and time again, and mockers end up seeing more familiar faces at tournaments the longer they compete. Whether it’s a wrongful death case against a scuba diving company or a robbery case against an amusement park employee, every mock trial team works on only one case all year long. When you meet other competitors who have been laser-focused on the same set of facts as you for the past several months, you realize you have a lot of shared knowledge and weird inside jokes with these people that you’ve never even met before. When you’re in competition against other teams, you can admire the angle they are taking on a certain issue or the effectiveness of their portrayal of a certain witness. And, of course, for teams too far away to see each other in-person very often, there are mock trial Facebook pages, YouTube videos, Tublr blogs, and the infamous Perjuries discussion forum to allow mockers from across the country to weave the bonds of mock trial community.
I remember going against Angela my senior year of college. It was the championship round of a tournament at Columbia University, and it was the first time my school had ever competed in a round against Harvard’s mock trial team. I remember all of Harvard’s attorneys and witnesses giving excellent performances, but Angela’s witness portrayal really stuck out. Her New York accented, military-diver-gone-commercial-divemaster was entertaining, charming, and had a commanding presence that took over the courtroom. Sadly, that brief round and a few words exchanged at another tournament later that year were the only times I will ever see her.
While NCAA sports teams might have chartered buses or planes to transport competitors to their competitions, mockers typically do not have such luxury. When there’s a tournament hundreds of miles away, you pile into the car, take turns driving, and do your best to keep everyone safe. Of course, everyone knows that accidents happen, and every member of every mock trial team fears the possibility of hearing about a crash involving your teammates. After this past weekend, tragically, Harvard Mock Trial Association is facing every team’s worst nightmare.
On a Friday in early February, Angela and her team climbed into a minivan and traveled over seven hours from Cambridge, MA to Richmond, VA, to compete at their Regional tournament. By the end of the weekend, Angela’s Harvard team had won the tournament, and Angela herself had won an individual outstanding witness award. That Sunday night, Angela was back in the car, riding home with her teammates, victorious.
I, like many mockers across the country, have been on that post-tournament car ride plenty of times. That car ride where you and your teammates recall the highlights from the weekend and smile at the good memories you’ve just made. That car ride where you rest your head against the glass window, watch the streetlights drift by, and breathe a sigh of relief that you did your teammates, your school, and yourself proud this weekend. That car ride where you’re surrounded by your best friends, who just spent the whole weekend with you, dressing up and pretending to be lawyers and witnesses in a series of fake legal battles. That car ride where you escape the hustle of college life and finally have a chance to breathe, reflect, and realize that you have found an activity and a group of people that make you really happy.
That car ride ended for Angela at 12:25am Monday morning when the minivan she was riding in crashed on the New Jersey Turnpike. Three of Angela’s teammates were injured. Angela was killed.
By Tuesday morning, there were text messages and Facebook posts flying around from school to school, speculating about rumors of a car accident involving a mock trial team. By Tuesday evening, the news broke that Harvard’s team had been in the crash and that Angela Mathew had been killed in the accident. Across the mock trial community, on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Perjuries, sympathy poured out from the teams across the country, all of us wanting to show our support and none of us able to imagine the anguish of Angela’s teammates and family.
That same weekend, American University Mock Trial had just sent two teams, 17 students and 2 coaches, to the Regional Tournament in Bristol, Rhode Island—a 7-hour car ride each way to/from Washington D.C. The trip took the team on the same stretch of the New Jersey Turnpike where Harvard’s van had crashed. We, like every mock trial program across the country, came to the painful realization that that kind of accident could just as likely have happened to any one of our teammates.
All year long, mockers practice to be able to top each other in competition in the fake courtrooms of Midlands, but when something like this happens to one of our teams, we stand together and show our communal support. While I know there is no gesture or sign of support that can make a dent in the grief that Angela’s family and her teammates are suffering right now, I hope they know that they have the sympathy of the mock trial community across the country. In the weeks and months ahead, I hope the mock trial community will continue to make even stronger signs of support for Angela’s teammates and family to help them through this horrible time.
Mock trial attracts some of the best and the brightest college students to its competition, and it brings out the best in the students who compete in it. While I did not get the chance to get to know Angela, I have no doubt she would have gone on to become an absolutely incredible person. While it can be difficult to find a moral after something as random, tragic, and sickeningly awful as Angela’s death, the words of Reverend Jonathan Walton of the Memorial Church at Harvard, who spoke during Angela’s memorial vigil, are about the closest thing I’ve been able to find. During the vigil, Walton said,
“None of us can control when the bell will toll for us or for loved ones. We do not know what tomorrow has in store, but we can seize every moment that we do have to let the special people in our lives know that we love [them.]”
This experience reminds us all to take time to hug our family, our friends, and our teammates, because we truly never know when we will no longer have that chance. I hope Angela’s teammates injured in the accident make a quick recovery and that the emotional wounds of her friends and family can heal with time.
Our tournaments may create rivalries and competitive drive against one another, but beneath that superficial layer of adversity, mock trial competition forges something stronger between us. From this horrible tragedy, I hope that mock trial competitors, coaches, and alumni across the country demonstrate our bonds of camaraderie and community as we continue to show support for Angela’s family and teammates. We are all competitors, and we are all on Angela’s team.
Photo from Angela Mathew’s Obituary in the Harvard Crimson: http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2014/2/11/angela-mathew-remembered-obituary/
Quotation from Reverend Jonathan Walton from Harvard Crimson article on Angela’s Memorial Vigil: http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2014/2/12/vigil-honors-lives-of/
Boston Globe article with details the New Jersey crash: http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/02/11/crash-claims-life-harvard-student/jQxfwugqOkFJTZIgBSLHIL/story.html
Press release from the American Mock Trial Association on Angela’s death and the importance of standing together as a community: http://www.collegemocktrial.org/AMTA%20Mourns%20Loss%20of%20Harvard%20Student.pdf