By Sophie Lange, News Editor
On Thursday, the Gettysburg College campus community held a Service of Remembrance for Assistant Director of International Student Services Sara Gifford in Christ Chapel. Gifford, 35, passed away on Dec. 22 as a result of an automobile accident. In addition to her work with the Office of International Student Services, she was also a Ph.D. candidate at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania in the English Literature and Criticism program.
Though she had only joined the campus this past July, students and colleagues expressed that Gifford had made a significant impact on the Gettysburg community.
Those in attendance included faculty, staff, students and members of Gifford’s family. The service began with a musical prelude, “Thaïs Méditation” composed by Jules Massenet, and was performed by Josianna M. Eteme ’26. At its conclusion, President Bob Iuliano gave opening remarks.
“As Gettysburgians, when we step onto this campus, we embrace a set of core values. Through every word and through every deed, Sara embodied these values… service, curiosity, leadership, integrity. In doing so, Sara helped countless Gettysburg students feel at home,” Iuliano said.
The Setting of Intention was given by Director of Religious and Spiritual Life and College Chaplain Michael Bright. Then a Sacred Reading from the Quran was delivered by the Advisor of the Muslim Student Association Dr. Rukhsana Rahman. Following the Sacred Reading, Aruzhan Yelzhassova ’26 gave an offering of music by playing “Actress,” composed by Yuriy Vesnyak.
During a poetic reflection, Tawah Tamba ’26 asked, “How did we get here? How? I thought we had plans. Why are we saying goodbye, instead of celebrating our achievements together?”
Tamba said that Sara left “a huge gap that can never be filled… Why do bad things happen to good people? It’s a question I keep asking myself. Why do we live if we are going to die anyways? Why do we go to school and work hard?”
Director of International Student Services Brad Lancaster offered words of remembrance for Sara. He opened with a story about the Christmas gift Gifford had left him.
“For Christmas, Sara had secretly left some of her homemade Kurdish cookies for me. They were just there on my desk in a nice holiday wrapping with a card that said how much she enjoyed working here and how much she was looking forward to working together next year,” Lancaster said. “She had already gone, so I didn’t have the chance to say thanks or how I was looking forward to working together as well. I just had the gift and the card and some quiet time to reflect on such a nice present and how thoughtful she was. When thinking about how to start talking about Sara today, my mind kept going back to that present. Like that present, Sara was a gift to us.”
In explaining how much of an impact Gifford had on the college and how she enjoyed her work, Lancaster talked about how she started the Halloween Trick-or-Treating event on campus to give international students an opportunity to participate in a United States tradition. He spoke of the joy she had as she went around campus looking at the different offices and how they were decorated. Lancaster said Gifford had a distinct perspective of what it was like to be an international student as she was once an international student herself.
“Being an immigrant herself, Sara had a unique understanding of what international students were going to find interesting and fun about American culture, and she was very passionate about sharing it,” Lancaster explained.
He also discussed the memories that students had of Gifford, saying, “The students were like her family.”
Next, Program Coordinator for the Office of International Student Services Carla E. Pavlick shared some words of remembrance before Eteme gave an offering of music with Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Sonata in G minor.”
Members of the community were invited to offer words of remembrance before Gifford’s sister and mother spoke about her. A moment of silence was then observed. Finally, Bright offered a resolution that expressed Gettysburg College’s appreciation for Gifford and gratitude for the positive difference she made in her short time at the college. Bright invited members of the community to take a flower from the table of memorial, which displayed a picture of Gifford.
Edvard Kravchuk’s “Momentary” was performed as the postlude.