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Campus celebrates life of junior with study abroad fund, memorial

Updated: May 10, 2018

Publication: Hilltop Views

A week after the death of junior Kassandra “Kassie” Braun, on-campus organizations and groups continue to mourn and celebrate the world-traveler’s legacy.

To commemorate her life, Braun’s friends from a summer 2016 study abroad in South Africa will host a second memorial in addition to the mass held last week. Similarly, the Global Engagement Office also honored Braun by creating a scholarship on Monday.

The memorial will take place today at 6 p.m. in the Maloney room on the third floor of Main Building. Organized by Professor Jennifer Ansier and junior Dakota Nichols, Nichols said all are welcome to attend the slideshow and community gathering. 

Nichols first befriended Braun during their study abroad in South Africa in summer 2016. After learning of Braun’s death last Tuesday, Nichols has helped organize another memorial. 

“There are a lot of people who are having a hard time hearing that Kassie passed,” Nichols said. “She touched a lot of different people in a lot of different ways. It’s definitely a community experience losing her.”

Braun was studying abroad with Semester at Sea in Bagan, Myanmar, when she was severely injured after a fall on Nov. 7. According to a press release from the organization, Braun had been traveling independently when she died in the ambulance.

The Moreau scholar, who was on her third study abroad trip and planning a fourth to Ireland in spring 2018, was involved in many on-campus organizations, including Hilltop Leaders and the Hilltop Hospitality Team. She also worked closely with members of the Global Engagement Office (GEO), which searched for ways to commemorate her legacy after receiving calls from students and friends of Braun’s, asking what they could do to help. 

In response, the office honored Braun on Monday by creating a study abroad scholarship in her name. Called the Global Engagement Opportunities Programs Abroad Annual Scholarship in Memory of Kassie Braun, the fund opened and is available to the public as a gift designation. 

Director of Global Engagement Lesley Robinson has been working with members of the GEO to support Kassie’s friends both on campus and off campus, many of whom are studying abroad on their own adventures.

In making the fund, Robinson used structure that was already in place with a GEO scholarship, creating a donation option specific to Kassie’s legacy.

“Kassie epitomized taking on your world. She answered the call of the university,” Robinson said. “The scholarship is a way to continue her passion for travel. I know her mom has said that she’s guiding the current odyssey with love and light. I would like to think that this scholarship will do the same.” 

To get the scholarship vetted, Robinson worked to get the permission and approval of the university, as well as Braun’s parents, Chalene and Dave. In public comments made to Semester at Sea, Chalene Braun has been open in her support of study abroad since her daughter’s passing.

“Even though Kassie’s voyage on Earth ended in Myanmar, I know without a doubt she will continue on in spirit with all of her shipmates…” Chalene Braun wrote on the study-abroad organization’s Facebook page. Semester at Sea held a memorial service for Braun on Nov. 11, producing a video of the traditional maritime ceremony, which is available on on the organization’s news page.

Earlier in the week on Nov. 8, members of the St. Edward’s community gathered for a Roman Catholic mass and memorial at Our Lady Queen of Peace Chapel.

“She had a tremendous love for her friends and teachers at Cathedral High School and St. Edward’s University,” the Braun family said in a statement from Nov. 7. “She lived life the Holy Cross way hoping to someday give back as was given to her.”

Phoebe Billings was Braun's former roommate and the two studied abroad together in Italy. 

“No one knew how to be spontaneous and have fun like Kassie did,” said Billings. “The word I would use that best describes her is sunshine because she radiates positive energy and happiness onto everyone she interacts with.”

Billings added, “Kassie taught me the importance of seizing the day and of not taking life too seriously.” 

Braun was majoring in communication, a skill set that the Indiana-native honed during travel experiences around the world. Her voyages included Italy and South Africa, the latter of the two she visited once with the university’s faculty-led Common Theme program and a second time recently with her mother.

In a recent conversation Nichols had with Braun, they discussed her travels to India, a country Nichols had told Braun that he dreamed of visiting. Then, Nichols said, “All of a sudden, she was gone.”

Like many people Hilltop Views has interviewed, Nichols said he remembered Braun as “fearless.” A distinct memory Nichols has of Braun was when she convinced him to go cage diving with sharks in South Africa. One of the first people to get in the water, Braun encouraged Nichols and others to join her in the fun.

“It’s important for people to know that Kassie is one of those people who would have wanted us to put on a smile and celebrate her life instead of mourn in a negative way,” Nichols said. “It’s important for all of her friends to know that they’re not alone.”

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