Fresno State students and faculty joined together for the candelit vigil in memory of Philip Dhanens in the free speech area where Theta Chi members, ASI members and select faculty spoke.
Roe Borunda / The Collegian
The Fresno State community gathered Tuesday night by the hundreds to mourn the sudden loss of freshman Philip Dhanens, who passed away this Sunday in what Fresno Police believe to be a death linked to excessive alcohol consumption.
People attended to mourn the loss of “a member of our Fresno State family,” Associated Students Inc. President Arthur Montejano said.
Dhanens, 18, a 6-foot-5, 325-pound ex-defensive lineman out of Garces Memorial-Bakersfield, was in his second week of college when he passed away. He was a Theta Chi fraternity pledge.
The silent, candlelit vigil held in the Free Speech Area preceded a ten-minute moment of silence to pay respects to Dhanens. President John Welty and Dr. Paul Oliaro, Vice President for Student Affairs, were the first to light their candles. Their flames spread from candle to candle, and two tiny flames eventually engulfed a whole crowd in mourning.
“Through the observation of a moment of silence, we will pay homage to the conversations, the laughter, the words and memories we will never be able to share with Philip,” Montejano said. “Through the lighting of our candles, by passing this flame on to one another, we will symbolically carry forward his inner light.”
Throughout the candlelit vigil, students and friends of Dhanens wrote their names and messages on a large, white sign that read: “In Memory of Philip Dhanens.” Flowers from the mourning crowd were set on the steps beneath his smiling portrait.
During the moment of silence, student Jenny Tormey of the Phi Mu sorority sang the song “One Sweet Day.”
The service concluded with an open-mic period where friends and family members closely associated with Dhanens were encouraged to speak memorable words of him.
Fresno State faculty member James E. Walton, and members of the Theta Chi fraternity were among the public speakers.
Walton, who said he has been teaching on campus since 1990, was the first to pay his respects to Dhanens. He never knew Dhanens personally.
“In the 20-plus years I’ve been on this campus, I have been out to a number of memorial services here in the Free Speech Area,” Walton said. “We can’t ask for whom the bell tolls. Maybe this weekend it tolled for Philip. But since we’re all involved with mankind, that bell tolls for all us.”
Members of the Theta Chi fraternity spoke at the vigil but did not identify themselves to the crowd.
One member recounted the first time he met Philip during a game of capture-the-flag.
“I’m looking up at him like, ‘There’s no way this kid is 18. This kid’s huge.’ And he just came back at you with this huge smile,” said one Theta Chi fraternity member. “He was just the nicest kid.”
Another member described how Dhanens’ presence in his life, though brief, was enough to change his life.
“When you look at him, you see this big dude. But right when he opened his mouth, all he had were positive things to say,” he said. “I tried to be there for him as much as I could. I regret a lot and I feel really bad for what happened. I can’t stress enough how much love I had for him. He blew my mind away. He changed the way I look at life.”
The recognition of the Theta Chi fraternity was suspended by Fresno State as the pending investigation continues. The Fresno Police suspect underage drinking to be one of the probable causes in Dhanens’ death.
Investigators are awaiting toxicology results that would point to a direct cause of death.
According to collegedrinkingprevention.gov, alcohol consumption is linked to about 1,400 college deaths per year.
“I think as members of the Fresno State family, we have to find a way to stop that bell from tolling,” Walton said. “It’s tolled too many times for too many Fresno State students.”