The Bison Family is hurting today after learning that it lost one of its own. The disappearance and death of Tom Bearson, an 18-year-old freshman from Sartell, Minn., has captured our attention despite the fact few of us knew him personally. It captured our attention because he was part of the Bison Family, and in that sense, he was connected to all of us that belong to the Bison Family. Bearson was one of the newest members of the Bison Family, a nursing student, who began school at North Dakota State less than a month ago. Students are the heart of NDSU, the heart of our Bison Family, and always have been. On Tuesday night, hundreds of those students, Bearson’s classmates, rallied around each other and offered their support to his family and friends with a heartfelt candlelight vigil.
Their compassion and thoughtfulness make us proud. It was a powerful symbol, reminiscent of a famous quote: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Of course, quite obviously, what we feel as the Bison Family is nothing compared to the pain Bearson’s family and friends are going through. Our hearts hurt for them. Our prayers go out to them. We cannot begin to fathom the depth of grief and despair they are experiencing. Young people, particularly those only weeks into their first year of college, aren’t supposed to meet the fate that befell Bearson over the weekend. They are supposed to come home.
But, here we are. We are reminded that as beautiful as life can be, it is also capable of delivering cruel blows. Blows so devastating they threaten to drive out the brightest of lights and make us question even the most sacrosanct of beliefs – including our faith. That comes with our human fallibility, it comes with not being able to understand that question of why certain things happen. Yet, in these dark moments, the darkest moments, moments so dark that we worry about what sorts of evils lurk in the shadows, our students gave us a powerful reminder and offered strangers they had never met love. Love for a lost son, love for a lost friend, love for a member of the Bison Family.
When you break it down to its very foundation, to its core, that’s what the Bison Family is – love. Everything we stand for as the Bison Family, everything we stand for as a university, it all comes back to that foundation, it all comes back to that core. When asked to describe what makes NDSU different, what makes us special, it comes down to this. Love. We don’t say it enough. We take it for granted. We quickly brush aside that feeling of vulnerability that comes along with it. We should instead embrace it. We’re told in scripture that, “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” On the darkest of nights, when we question that we hold most dear, when we’re afraid, when we can’t answer the question of why, is when we need love the most.
We were reminded of that Tuesday night. When it really counts, on days like these, when it’s so easy to doubt, our students set the example, rallying around each other as one herd, and doing what they could to lift those who needed support the most. No one asked them to do this – they did it because that’s what the Bison Family does, because that’s what the Bison Family is. We’d do well to remember that. I hope and pray Bearson’s family knows he was part of something special at NDSU, the Bison Family. The Bison Family is a herd. Bearson was part of that herd. And the thoughts and prayers of the entire Bison Family, not just our students, go out to the Bearson family.