In Memoriam: Amanda Kelley Gilbert

Amanda Kelley Gilbert March 20, 1974 - March 1, 1993

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I think the frustrations and sadness that we feel today are well-expressed in the following verse:

           Before her time did this lady pass away

           And the song of her life

           Was interrupted in the middle

           And how sad it is

           There were other verses

           That remained to be sung

We are gathered to remember, honor and celebrate the life of Amanda Kelley Gilbert, one of the UCLA’s forensics family’s finest flowers, cut down just as she started to bloom. Words cannot adequately express the grief and frustration that we feel over the tragic death of one who was just starting to live her life.

Yes, we know that every rising sun must set, that every one of life’s candles must someday burn out. But when the light goes out in one so young, it’s as though the sun has set at noon – darkness, when we expected decades more of light.

Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert expected the light in their daughter’s life to shine a bit longer than 18 years. But it was not to be. So now they are forced to engage in the unnatural act of burying their only child. I can find no words to explain or justify this perversion. First Aaron, now Amanda.

Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert, I want you to take comfort in this: Your daughter was wonderful and kind, and I know you both had a lot to do with that. And even though the river of Amanda’s life has now rejoined the ocean of infinity, she left behind for us a legacy of dedication, kindness and love that will serve as a role model for generations, and will live in our hearts forever.

We must forget how empty and poor our lives will be without Amanda’s presence. Better that we remember how full and rich our lives were when Amanda was with us.

Amanda is gone and we are left to summon up the beautiful moments that we spent with her. Though she is not with us today, nothing can erase the sweet memories we all possess. Voltaire wrote. “God gave us a memory so that we may have roses in December.” So too can Amanda live on with us, in memory. Before I share with you my recollections of that gentle, fragile and beautiful young lady, I would like to give you a few moments to remember and reflect upon your times with her.

But what should we remember of this life?

I suspect that Amanda would want to be remembered as a respected, successful and well-liked forensics competitor. Although she was just a freshman, and it did take a while for her to make the transition from high school to college debate, she was always positive about the future.

When she didn’t advance, she would say: “Professor Miller, it will be better next tournament.” She was right. Amanda worked very hard and recently began to win debate tournaments and first place trophies for UCLA in individual events.

When competitors from other schools learned of her death, they called to say how sorry they were, and how good it was to compete against, and yes, lose to her. Amanda had mastered the art of disagreeing without being disagreeable. She would thoroughly dismantle her opponent’s arguments, but she always left them with their dignity, self-respect and an appreciation of the fallacies in their reasoning.

But what should we remember of this life?

We should remember that Amanda was a fine human being and a dedicated and selfless member of our team. If some research needed to be done, or a novice team coached, I could always count on Amanda. She was selfless when it came to team activities and kind to her debate colleagues. When her partner made some mistake during a debate, no matter how large, she would just say “Don’t worry about it, you will do better next time”

But what should we remember of this life?

I remember and treasure Amanda as a dedicated student. I think that all professors yearn for a student who is intellectually curious and is totally dedicated to the understanding and mastery of a subject. Amanda was one of the smartest students I have coached in 15 years. She did all the assigned readings, would ask for more readings and would always ask insightful questions.

She understood the instruction the first time, and she was always appreciative of the teaching. I remember watching her and her partner in a preliminary round recently, and I suggested some changes in her argumentation. After going on to win the final round (3-0) of the same tournament, she was kind enough to take me aside after the competition and say: “Professor Miller, I appreciate your critiques and tried some of your suggestions in the final round, and they worked out very nicely. Thank you for caring and helping me grow.”

Since the tragedy started, Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert have, most touchingly, been on the phone with me to check on the conditions of the other students, to be sure none of the students involved blamed themselves for Amanda’s accidental death.

Everyone who met Amanda was enchanted by her, intelligence, her beauty, but most importantly her kindness. I always wondered how she turned out so kind – until I met her parents – and then I didn’t wonder any longer.

William Shakespeare must have known that a fine young woman and budding young scholar would be among us for a short while, and then be taken from our midst. For he wrote:

And when she shall go

Take her, and place her out in little stars

And she will make the face of heaven so fine

That all the world will be in love with that

      night

Look up at a star tonight, and you will see the light of Amanda Kelley Gilbert.

Carl Sandburg said that a tree is best measured when it is down. I am sorry that it took Amanda’s death for me to really measure her worth, appreciate what a fine human being she really was, and how much I am going to miss her.

Joni Mitchell was right: “We don’t know what we have got until it’s gone.” I just hope that if there are any Amanda Gilberts in your life, you will let them know – today – how special they are. Tomorrow they may be gone!

Amanda Gilbert is gone, and we are left with our memories. If I had to sum up Amanda in five words, those words would be intelligent, dedicated, excellent, positive and most importantly, kind.

As I look out into this church today, I see that it is overflowing with people. There is not a seat left and dozens of you are crowded along the back and sides. Yet, I know that the hundreds that are here, are but a fraction of the people Amanda knew and enriched in her short life.

As I look at your tear-stained faces, I can see your sadness and feel your frustration. That is how I feel too. I am so sad. But if Amanda could speak to us today, here is what I think she would say:

If I should die, and leave you here awhile

Be not like others, sore, undone

Who keep long vigils

By the silent dust and weep

For my sake, turn again to life and smile

Turn again to life and smile.

--This Eulogy was written and delivered by Tom Miller, director of forensics at UCLA.