I promised Austin that we would walk along the lake at dawn to the Field museum and have a picnic before I went to work one day this summer. Today, I did so with his roommate. We got up at 4:30 so we could meet at 5 and be at Promontory Point by 5:30, where we sat as the sun rose. Then we wended our way along the lakefront trail the 6 and a bit miles to the museum where we ate delicious pastries. Along this walk, I kept imagining Austin sharing in our joy in the out of doors, even at this ridiculous hour, seeing him roll his eyes as I stopped to look at plants along the side of the path, and feeling him hugging me we completed our journey.
For those of you who may not know me, I’m Ezra Depperman. I taught Austin Chemistry, I coached him in Science Olympiad, and I was fortunate enough to be chosen as his adviser for his senior year. I’m grateful to Laurie, Gregg, and Aidan for inviting me to speak today.
From the start of class, it was obvious that Austin was exceptional. Though he was in the ninth grade when he took my class, based on his slight build and small stature, you might have wondered why a mid-schooler was taking Chemistry. But when you heard Austin speak, the question you were more likely to ask was “what is a college student doing in high school?”
When I’d pose the most difficult questions to the class, the questions nobody else could answer, Austin would always have some thoughtful and insightful discourse on the matter. And he was frequently able to expound far beyond the intended scope of the question. How Austin was able to do this without being regarded by his classmates as a “super nerd” was somewhat mysterious to me at first.
I’ll never forget one incident when I presented a question to which I naively thought I knew the answer. (Not that this was the first time I’d ever been stumped, mind you, but in the past I’d been able to avoid the appearance of ignorance). I was lecturing about subatomic particles. I presented the class with the masses of protons, neutrons, and electrons. I then posited that an atom’s mass should be the sum of the masses of the particles comprising it. Now the masses you’ll find in any periodic table are based on the standard of a single carbon-12 atom weighing exactly 12 amu. And a carbon-12 atom contains six protons, 6 neutrons, and 6 electrons. So, without having tried this calculation myself beforehand, I asked the class to add up the combined masses of 6 protons, 6 neutrons and 6 electrons. To my dismay, the result was NOT exactly 12 amu. It was slightly more.
I was befuddled. I had a feeling that, this time, blaming “rounding error” just wouldn’t cut it. I was stammering, deciding whether or not to succumb to panic, when Austin came to my rescue. Raising his hand, he looked me calmly in the eye and stated, “I think I know where the extra mass goes.” To my great wonder, amazement, and delight, Austin wrote the equation E = mc2 on the board and proceeded to expound on relativity, and how the formation of elements from their subatomic particles produces energy. That this energy comes from the conversion of mass, and it can be calculated from the mass defect using Einstein’s most famous equation. Now I had just finished my PhD in physical chemistry, and I thought I knew the subject pretty well, but apparently, there were some holes in my education. To be upstaged by this diminutive ninth-grader should have been humiliating. And I was humbled, but Austin delivered his brilliant explanation with such a sense of wonder, intellectual curiosity, and joyful enthusiasm, that I totally forgot that I was supposed to feel humiliated.
The lessons Austin taught that day have become a part of my teaching. Even now, I present the subject of mass defect the same way: having the students perform the calculation and then discussing why the result is not as expected. Turns out that these are the instances when you learn the most in science, when a result is different from what you expect. Moreover, having been gently humbled by Austin, I’ve learned that my students have just as much to teach me as I have to teach them.
Even as a small child, Austin was an eager student of anything and everything he found interesting. Observing the world around him, Austin would hypothesize about its behavior, make careful observations, and revise his hypotheses as necessary. Not taking anything for granted, Austin became proficient at using the scientific method at an age years younger than most people are when they first hear the expression “Scientific Method”. As deeply as Austin’s loss hurts, we can at least derive some comfort in the fact that he spent his final moments engaged in the activity he loved most. That’s something we should all aspire to.
Now, ninth graders with a working understanding of relativity are still somewhat rare, even at the Academy. But the spirit of inquiry that Austin brought to class every day, the sense that the universe is comprehensible if we only care to observe, is alive and well. If Austin were here today, I’m sure he’d agree that among the greatest joys in life is learning about ourselves and this beautiful world we inhabit, and sharing that understanding with others. Saying “yes” to new experiences rather than putting them off for later. And it’s not just science – Any idea that piqued his interest, Austin would engage with fully. For instance, he also loved Nascar (Right? From early childhood, Austin loved anything with wheels). Studying drivers’ past performance on different courses, he would predict the outcome of the current race. He loved politics – Austin would get the numbers from county elections and try to use them to predict the results of national elections (mind you, this was before anyone had even heard of Nate Silver). He was even a formidable opponent in the game, Scrabble. Austin’s example urges us all, regardless of what our passion may be, to seize opportunities to learn and to share our learning and enthusiasm with others. That’s the true joy in learning – the Joy that nobody knew better than Austin.
Austin once talked to me about dreams- he said that he especially loved having flying dreams. In his description of his most recent one, he said that it was like his gravity had been altered, and with every giant step that he took he soared above the Earth to happily observe the broader landscape. Another time when were walking through the MSI's aviation exhibit we agreed that it would be far better to live small but invest in an airplane, to actually be able to fly over the Earth. I see Austin, flying now, soaring somewhere, still exploring.
On the same topic of dreams, I distinctly recall Austin telling me how he used to invariably drool while sleeping but that he had recently stopped, a fact which greatly pleased him. Now whenever I awaken, mouth wet with drool, I invariably think of Austin. I'm quite happy that I have not yet lost this capacity for sleep-slobbering, for it's another thing I link with Austin (though I'm not sure how he would take this connection).
My heart goes out to the entire Hudson-Lapore family. What an amazing family.
Austin touched my life through working with his mother, Laurie. I was Department Administrator in her department for two years. This was a time that I struggled to find a balance as a working mother with an infant/toddler and a challenging job, and Laurie’s example was a beacon to me. She helped me by sharing her insights and stories – I always came away from each conversation feeling like a better person and parent. I don’t know how she does it, but she has a way of talking about her kids with such pride but without bragging.
I never got to meet Austin, but I know what an amazing person he was by knowing his mom. There were two stories in particular that Laurie shared that have stayed with me.
First, she told me how she always let her children tell HER when it was safe to cross a street. I thought this was an ingenious way to engage the kids, to be mindful of their surroundings and safety, and to apply it to others. Of course, we adopted this at our home, always asking my 3-year-old Luke to tell us when it’s safe to cross – he delights in informing us “There are NO cars!”
Second, she told me how when her daughter was on the way and Austin still a toddler, she got a baby doll and would hold/rock the doll while reading with Austin. Then when Aidan arrived, it was totally normal to Austin to continue sitting together reading, with a baby in her arms. I hope my family can emulate this someday.
My son, at 3, has some striking similarities to Austin, especially now that I’ve read many of Austin’s 3-year-old stories. Luke is a sweet and sensitive soul, kind but not without his strong feelings, likes plain food and baseball, and loves trucks (especially categorizing/classifying them – and boy, will he correct me when I mis-identify!). I hope that he will grow to be as kind and passionate as Austin was.
Laurie, Austin’s legacy has expanded to include my family through your wonderful stories. Thank you for sharing them.
As many know, Austin enjoyed walking. And yet it was still a surprise to me when my innocuous query of "how was your Friday" was met with the following email response:
"I walked to Evanston... with detours... from Hyde Park. I'm pretty sore, as you might guess! It was beautiful, though. A clear and warm night - what more could you ask for?"
Though I did a double-take upon reading 'to Evanston' I did not doubt for an instant that Austin had inadvertently ended up walking into Evanston on a nighttime ramble. http://tinyurl.com/lv8tmej (ed: make sure to zoom out to see the whole route) is the route he remembers taking-- detours indeed, loops to different beaches and outlets with a good view of the lake and evening sky. What more can you ask for- Austin was so happy and content. Knowing this makes me happy.
...And then, after having walked for 7 hours from 5pm to 2am, "And when I took the CTA back, the guy sitting next to me became convinced that I was an undercover FBI operative". That cracks me up every time. Oh, Austin.
Austin's life was so full, but too short. He was one of those souls whose impact far exceeded the time available to make this impact. He has been on my mind each day here, as I work with emerging educational leaders from around the world, looking at them and wondering what would have emerged from Austin's contribution to others through a longer lifetime, now denied to him and the world.
Rarely do we see such a curious, interesting, accomplished, mature person at such a young age, and rarely do we see such a thoughtful and loving family through all the steps of this tragic loss.
Let me add my thanks to everyone showing so much love for Austin and the family over the events of the past few weeks.
It shatters and cripples the lives it touches…
But tonight, I’ve gained a new understanding of death. You could say I found the beauty in it. Not in a way that would make it pleasant or bearable… But more of a way that I can try and learn something about myself from each loss I am hit with.
Tonight, one of my most cherished communities said goodbye to a beautiful soul named Austin. He fully embodied the Albuquerque Academy. In his spirit, his contributions, and his presence. He was a genius among a sea of many masquerading as such. But a humble genius.
While I shared too little in conversation with him during our time at Academy, I left his memorial tonight with new memories shared by his loved ones, professors, and my fellow Academy alumni.
To me, Austin had always been the boy with the rolling backpack. The image of him sprinting up the pathway to North Hall, his ID lanyard flying in the wind behind him as he passed, will be how I forever see him. Thankfully, I will also now be able to carry with me the memory of his essence, something I was missing, and had not grasped or come to know until tonight’s service.
Austin was always kind. Everybody knew that. But tonight I learned of his passion for and dedication to learning. How he loved to try new things, and embraced the possibilities that so many of us happily go through our days ignoring.
His father left the mourners with an inspiring challenge and request, brought on by the way Austin lived. He encouraged us to remember and honor Austin by challenging ourselves to say ‘yes’ more. To go that extra mile on a hike. To go to classical music concerts and just, be, in the full moment of the music. To tell everybody we love, just how much we love them, unapologetically. Because why not? Why not tell your friends you love them, every chance you get? It’s the truth isn’t it?
I spoke a few words of how I will remember Austin, and for that his family thanked me. But I should have been thanking them. And thanking Austin. His death rocked our community. But it also brought us together, hopefully, strengthening the bounds already there, and establishing the ones not yet built.
So tonight, I start anew. And for that, I thank you, Austin.
Say hi to Nick and Lt. Casey while you’re up there. Hope you all have one, big, rollicking heck of an Academy reunion."
Sergio and I have known Laurie since we were first-year graduate students at UNM in 2004. Immediately, she became our mentor and guide, and I asked her later to be in my dissertation committee. Through the years of interacting with her, we occasionally heard stories about both her children while they were growing up, mostly funny things they did. I looked up to Laurie because she was an example of a great scientist, who clearly was also a great mom and had managed her career and her personal life. Then, in the summer of 2011, I had the opportunity to meet and work with Austin in Dr. Karlett Parra’s lab, while I was a postdoc and he was a summer student. It was after his first year at U. of Chicago. The whole summer, I was impressed with Austin’s intellect, quick hands, and creativity in the lab. I loved his nerdy T-shirts, which inspired me to wear mine as well. While he was at the lab, we had long talks about his major and I strongly encouraged him to study biochemistry (although I thought he was going to pursue math or physics). A funny thing happened the day of the undergraduate student symposium at the end of the summer, that’s when I realized that he was Laurie’s son! She looked so proud of him that day, and they looked so much alike. The whole summer Austin never bragged about being his mother’s son. That was a humble quality about him. He gained his lab mates’ respect on his own merits as a brilliant “budding” scientist (he thought it was funny when I called him that because we worked with budding yeast). At the end of the summer I remember thinking that Austin will one day win a Nobel prize (no question in my mind).
We followed the news of his disappearance and then finally the sad ending to this brilliant young man’s life. The scientific community has lost the talent that would surely have solved some of humanities’ greatest problems. Laurie, we are so sorry for you and your family’s loss. You have been such a beacon of light in our lives, guiding us when we needed your help. We hope you and everyone who loved Austin will find comfort in the memories of such a wonderful human being, knowing that his time here was meaningful, and he touched our lives.
Our thoughts are with you,
Sergio and Leyma De Haro
I only knew Austin for a few days when I visited my daughter Emily who was his second au pair. I could tell he was a very special boy,particular about his food and inclined to take long naps! His family were totally loving, nurturing and supportive. No one could have asked for a better family so his sudden and tragic loss is just devastating. My heart goes out to Laurie, Gregg and Aidan. Such a loss to us all.
I came to know Austin in Summer 2011 at the University of New Mexico. He was my labmate at the time. Austin was very caring, smart and eager to learn, asking questions about the various laboratory techniques. Austin was very passionate about his ﬁeld of study with a bright future ahead of himself. I still in shock and cannot believe that this tragedy happened. May peace and love bring closure and comfort to his family and friends. My thoughts and prayers go out to them.
Collecting stories so that everyone can see who Austin Hudson-Lapore was to each of us.