Vanessa “Ness” Mark leaves legacy of “impossible goodness”
The community gathered on Dec. 6 to remember Vanessa’s life, light, humor, and kindness.
“She demonstrated all of the wonderful things the human spirit is capable of,” Paul Weir ’25 said of student Vanessa — better known by her close friends as Ness — Mark, who tragically passed away in the shuttle accident on Nov. 19.
Sherman Function Hall was filled with community members coming together to commemorate Vanessa. The memorial service on Tuesday, Dec. 6 provided an opportunity for friends of Vanessa to share memories and reflect on the time they spent together. Some of Vanessa’s past professors also shared insight into the life she led. The service fostered a supportive environment, and many attendees could be seen comforting and leaning on each other as they absorbed all of the powerful words shared about Vanessa.
The ceremony began with a few words from Senior Chaplain Rabbi Seth Winberg. “The death of a student — of a young adult — is an enormous rupture in what we expect college to be,” Winberg began. He expressed his condolences to Vanessa’s family, who were present on the livestream, and acknowledged that while words are inadequate in addressing their grief and pain, he hopes that “hearing these reflections from Vanessa’s beloved friends and teachers helps you to know how much people at Brandeis admire and love Vanessa and the hope and encouragement that she gave to her friends and to the community.”
Winberg continued that the memorial service is an opportunity for those who knew Vanessa to “remember her [and] to share their memories [of] what she was like, things she said, art she created, her personality, her comedic and artistic talents, her qualities, and her hopes,” and provides a chance for those who did not know Vanessa to learn about her and her lasting impact on the Brandeis community.
University President Ron Liebowitz spoke next, expressing that he was filled with gratitude for being “part of a community that cares so deeply for one another.” He thanked Brandeis community members, saying, “You have helped your classmates, your students, and your colleagues confront this tragedy by offering your time, your resources, and certainly an ear to those needing an ear, and you have done so with profound compassion.”
Liebowitz spoke of Vanessa’s connection to Brandeis, explaining how she chose to remain in Waltham to be near the community even when she was not taking classes. Additionally, “Vanessa exemplified one of Brandeis’ enduring values, to make the world a better place,” Liebowitz said, alluding to her devotion to the Prospect Hill Community Center, which provides academic and professional development service to residents of Waltham.
Vanessa’s most dominant involvement on campus, though, was with the False Advertising musical improv group. Many of her friends who spoke at the memorial reflected on their memories from the group and Vanessa’s talent for making people laugh. Weir explained how “she was the most brilliant performer I ever saw, she dazzled anyone who ever watched her. Her ideas just seemed to come completely out of nowhere, towing the line between completely nonsensical and absolutely brilliant.” He continued that “at the same time, for how talented she was, one could never feel as loved as they felt when sharing the stage with her. Despite her talents, she cared most about making her scene partners and friends look and feel good.”
Weir shared a story about how Vanessa once heard Weir profess his love for pears, which resulted in Vanessa gifting him pears every time they saw each other, because nothing brought her more joy than making her friends happy, he explained. “There was not a more selfless, caring, or empathetic person alive,” Weir said. “[Vanessa was] always in tune to the emotions and mood that surrounded her. Ness had a unique, impossible goodness, one that touched everyone who met her and inspires all of us to be better people,” he added.
Prof. Ellen Wright (PSYC), one of Vanessa’s professors, described Vanessa’s light, which is how she remembers her. “She really saw those that were overlooked and invisible and reached out to them,” Wright said. She also commented on grief and loss, explaining that “loss is not an object we encounter, but a landscape. The presence of an absence that haunts without leaving.”
Andie Sheinbaum ’24 shared more memories of Vanessa from False Advertising. She remembered back to their improv scenes that left them hunched over laughing late into the night and looked back with gratitude on the small amount of time they had together. “As I’ve been reflecting recently, I realize that the problem with grieving isn’t only missing Ness, it’s the fact that though Ness is beginning to be in the past tense, the feelings I have for her are squarely in the present,” she said. In the wake of the tragedy, Sheinbaum has found joy in thinking back to memories of Vanessa: “When my grief feels overwhelming, I remember her cooking, her laughter, and the way she took time to care for me, even if she was in the middle of packing for a flight. I love her so deeply, and I’m so lucky that our time together isn’t done. I can always be with her in my many beautiful memories of us.”