Claire's cousin, Liza Gant, posted this tribute a few days ago. It's beautiful and heart wrenching and true. Thank you for letting us share it with Claire's Community.
Here are some things I know:
Life is beautiful, but it is brutal. It can be ugly and heart-wrenching and unfair.
It's easy to watch something devastatingly horrible happen to your family and fall into cynicism in order to protect yourself from the pain.
Don't. Feel deeply. Get passionate. Get pissed.
I am more sad than I am angry, but not by much. Non-physical domestic abuse (verbal, emotional, manipulation, intimidation, etc) is not universally seen for what it is. It is wicked. It is dangerous. It is the symptom of something much larger.
It is your aunt you've only met once because her husband has ostracized her from the family and she is too afraid to leave.
It is your friend's boyfriend who calls her every 30 minutes while she's out without him, making sure that she knows that there will be hell to pay if she doesn't get back home right when he wants her there.
It is the police saying there is nothing they can do. It is the refusal of a restraining order. It is the idea that if there are no visible marks and bruises, it can't be THAT bad.
It is my beloved cousin, the best person I know, getting shot on a cold January morning on her way to work, by her ex-boyfriend who had never previously laid a hand on her.
I know that am mournful, I am horrified, I am bewildered that there is enough evil in this world that something like this can happen. I am furious that my aunt is left without her daughter and best friend. I am furious that my cousins are left, two older brothers without their younger sister to pick on, protect, and love. My heart is shattered. My family lost our living-room dancer, karaoke champion, and one of our brightest lights.
And I know I am naive enough to think that there is still good in this world.
Claire-Bear... I am blessed to have grown up alongside you, to have shared so many belly-laughs and inside jokes, and to have had you as a constant motivation and inspiration. You loved me through all my junk, you made me laugh incessantly, and I really really really really really miss you.
Today's #TributeTuesday comes from Claire's long-term roommate and best friend Maddie Ryan. Thank you, as always, for your kind words, and for helping us further memorialize and remember our girl.
"My favorite things about Claire are her sense of humor and her love for others. From day one we shared a sense of humor that was both silly and strange.
She's the Ooms to my Dolla, we even made a blog celebrating our friendship. We loved to make up dances to songs that were not high quality, dressing up as Amy Winehouse or lumberjacks, watching bad television, and imitating the chipmunk from Disney's Enchanted.
One summer we spent every evening watching Twin Peaks. This was the beginning of "binge" watching television, around 2011-ish. Every night we would come back from class, lay down on the couch, and watch episode after episode. Then Claire got a cat. I was not a fan, it destroyed my furniture and was way too loud, but she won me over by naming it Cooper. Dale Cooper was our favorite character in Twin Peaks, a man who loved coffee and pie. Cooper became part of the family until our roommate ship ended on 7-14-12, a date Claire commemorated with a playlist because she is the sweetest, kindest and most silly person I've ever met!!
The love you could feel from this girl was unparalleled. She made you feel like you were way better at everything you did then you actually were. She bought her friends art, went to their performances, and cheered you on in even you most harebrained ideas. In college, she insisted that I put a portrait of myself on our shared mantle. It wasn't good or cute but I definitely felt loved. Even after college, she kept a Maddie original on her mantle of a woman holding a chainsaw. Why? because she loved me and was a weirdo.
As you can tell, she was an integral part of everything I did. I'm horrified that something so violent happened to someone I love. Losing her was sudden, abrupt, and devastating to everyone she came in contact with. Love you, Ooms forever and ever."
Todays #TributeTuesday comes from Elizabeth Schmiedlin, Claire's dorm counselor during her time at Culver Academies.
It has been a blessing to hear so many different people's stories about Claire, and getting to learn how she impacted so many lives. As always, thank you for your kind words.
"It is hard to understand how someone so good for this world could be taken from it so prematurely. No doubt, Claire's time here on earth was well spent, as is a testament to all that she has accomplished in her young life.
It was a privilege to be Claire’s dorm counselor for four years at Culver Academies. It was marvelous to watch her grow and navigate the world. She was full of joy and excitement with every new endeavor upon which she embarked: Dancevision, Leadership Committee for Africa, and Green Life, to name only a few. Everything she joined she joined with purpose and resolve. She was definitely not your typical teenager; she stood out. She stood for the good.
Claire was breath taking at first glance with her big brown eyes, porcelain skin and inviting smile. She was not unlike a beautiful work of art both inside and out: a gentle, demure and unassuming soul. Her pristine character, grace, poise, intelligence, youthful wisdom, wit and genuine concern for others gave way to an expression that could be studied, emulated, admired, looked upon from afar, and appreciated deeply. She was above reproach, a model citizen whose example proved that you could be both intelligent and beautiful, as well as nice. She embodied the good, and she made a difference in her 27 years. She captivated people with her joyful spirit, lifted them up, inspired the lost, and gave people hope, all in a way that made others comfortable.
Our Claire was beloved and treasured by all who had the privilege to work with her. We are better for having known her and I cannot help but think the fruits of her work are yet to be realized. Claire’s life has touch so many people that when contemplating all that she has championed as worthy of her time and efforts, I know she will inspire the masses to do more for this world; to give more intently, to make a difference, to be better people, which is exactly what our broken world needs. She will not be forgotten.
Thank you for sharing Claire with us. We will carry on her inspiring torch, and please know that we will continue to tell our girls at Culver Girls Academy about this one very exceptional graduate."
Today's #TributeTuesday is from Kelly Wessel, Claire's friend and University of Louisville School of Dentistry classmate:
"To me, Claire was the modern-day, twenty-something Martha Stewart. She knew how to cook, bake, entertain, and throw the best parties where she considered every detail. I remember even asking her to make my wedding cake at one point, which she totally would have done. She also impressed me so much because she could dance like none other (she literally would kill us in Zumba and have the moves down in just one go around), she could sing, play guitar, and do the best (and funniest!) impressions and impersonations you have ever seen. On the flip side of that, there was another more intense side of Claire. A side that was so smart, well-educated, cultured, well-traveled, politically involved, an activist, and a volunteer. She cared so much for everyone around her. I can remember watching her cry after telling one of her first patients that her teeth couldn’t be saved and she would be committed to a denture because she truly cared about her patient. She never thought of this as her patients fault, but the fault of lack of education and circumstance. I also remember Claire in Honduras lighting up all the little girls by teaching them ballerina dance moves, and crying because she couldn’t help all of the needs of the people during the short time on our trip. To Claire, helping wasn’t really the answer, solving was. She wanted to not only “do her part,” but take away any need to do further service because she wanted to complete the job. She truly was the perfect package and such a gift to this world. I am thankful for the memories and for being able to know a person like Claire."
Written by Claire VanLandingham in January 2007 as part of her application for the Lilly Scholarship
Do not ask me what I want to be when I grow up. The question has haunted me since kindergarten. There is no sanctuary from it; it is an inevitable part of family reunions and camp icebreakers. I try to avoid the question because, honestly, I do not know what I want to be. I can tell you plenty of things I want to do in my life: learn sign language, be politically literate, win a game of monopoly, donate blood, work for a charity, do 32 consecutive fouettes. But I cannot tell you what I want to be. At this point in my life, my interests are too broad and diverse to commit myself to one thing. Since kindergarten, I have narrowed my list of what I want to be when I grow up (princess and baton twirler have been crossed off) but I keep discovering new things that I enjoy and am interested in.
This is not to say that I do not have any plans for my life- I do. I want to serve others. The majors I am interested in are peace studies, non-profit management, political science, and pre-med. These may seem varied and unlike each other, but they are all related through my one concrete goal for my future. I will serve others, whether I am a doctor, the manager of a non-profit organization, or a policy maker in DC. I am not sure which of these majors or jobs will be the most appealing to me when I get there.
I have established goals, but I am not going to let them deprive me of interesting detours. Some of my peers have their futures planned out by the minute. The only things I want to do for sure are attend college and work in either the Peace Corps or Americorps to further develop my views of the world and get another first- hand experience in service.
So, what do I want to be when I grow up? I want to be a leader, a humanitarian, a friend, a collaborator, a gardener, and a philanthropist. But what job do I want? I am not yet my grown-up self; I cannot know what she will want to do everyday. Until then, I will explore and experiment with my diverse interests, strengthen and solidify my skills, and figure out what I truly enjoy.