Five Years Later: Andover Remembers Zach Tripp ’00

Five years ago this week, the Phillips Academy community underwent one of the worst tragedies in its two and a quarter century history. On a Thursday night in February of 2000, Zach Tripp, President of Student Council, co-head of the Philomathean Society, and one of the most respected members of the Senior class, took his own life. “His death was devastating to the campus. It was like suddenly losing a family member,” said Abbot Cluster Dean and Instructor in Spanish Albert Cauz, Tripp’s Cluster Dean and upper-year Spanish teacher. After the student body was informed of Zach’s death at dorm meetings that same night, the administration allowed students to stay out of their dorms past sign in. Many students roamed the campus in a state of shock and grief, crying with friends. The fog that had descended on Andover earlier that day did not lift until Zach’s memorial service a week later. Zack had been a leader, a role model. His wonderfully kind, generous personality made him a friend of many – his death left an indelible mark on all members of the Phillips Academy community. “He was…perhaps the most popular kid in school, smart, successful, well-liked by young and old,” said Dan Schwerin ’00, who served as co-head of the Philomathean Society with Zach. The administration called an emergency All-School Meeting the next day, cancelled Andover-Exeter athletic games for the weekend, and made class attendance optional. Most classes that did convene discussed the tragedy. “…The wails of sorrow rang through Cochran Chapel in a way I’ll never forget. That event, though it included several appropriate reflections and touching musical performances, will always rank among the worst experiences of my life…The grief was palpable,” said Joe Lemire ’01, a teammate and close friend of Zack’s. Graham House and the Office of Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD) remained open around the clock. Students drifted in and out of both to discuss and reflect. Assistant Dean of Students and Psychological Counselor Cilla Bonney-Smith and Associate Directors of Psychological Counseling Max Alovisetti and Margaret Jackson reached out to all the students and guided many through the worst event they had ever endured. “What we wanted was for students to be supported and to be with other students in an environment where they could talk about the incident to work through their grief,” said Dr. Alovisetti. “[The Graham House Counselors] were our rock in a very frightening and turbulent storm,” said Instructor in History and Social Science Christopher Shaw, Zack’s advisor and History teacher. The faculty also made themselves available to students to help them cope. Faculty members stationed themselves around campus to make sure that anyone who wanted to talk to an adult could. Parents and alumni also flooded to the school to offer their condolences and aid. “The kids and faculty proved resilient and came together as one huge support group. For that year we became one big family, a family that had moments of anger, joy and sorrow for the remainder of the year…this tragic event brought all sorts of people together,” said Mr. Cauz. As Head of School Barbara Chase and the Deans discussed what action to take, students floundered through the week in a haze of despair. While the community mourned, the media converged onto campus to cover the tragedy. Despite numerous requests from Mrs. Chase to give the grief-stricken faculty and student body space to come to terms with Zach’s death, reporters flooded the campus in an attempt to wrestle quotations from community members and to get an idea of the “typical” PA student. Ultimately, after much consultation with the Deans and other faculty members, Mrs. Chase decided to forgo exams and end winter term two weeks early. Following a final goodbye to Zack in a poignant memorial service, students were released for the term. “The school handled the devastating situation with a tremendous amount of sympathy and support for the entire PA community. It was a very difficult time, and I feel that every decision the institution made was in the best interests of the students and faculty involved,” said Instructor in Biology Rajesh Mundra, Zack’s house counselor. Though the extended Spring Break was vital in allowing many to begin the healing process, such a traumatic event could not be easily brushed off by those who knew Zack. Many students continued the dialogue about the tragedy among themselves and with faculty members. Counselors at Graham House also met throughout the term with those close to Zach. “If only Zack could have seen beyond the immediate situation and realized that everything going on right then would have passed in time and everything would have been okay,” said Ben Hall ’00. “Five years later, Zack remains a part of our lives. For the many of us who knew him, he’s still the dear friend we wish we could see one more time,” said Schwerin. For the past five years, the administration has attempted to reinforce an already strong support net for students. While the Academy has always dealt with depression in its curriculum, a segment on suicide was added to the Life Issues program for Lowers.