Monday, March 19, 2018

In Memoriam: Tripp Zanetis, 1980 - 2018

The 1946 film "It's a Wonderful Life" has been replaying in my mind over the past few days.

Specifically, the "Pottersville" scenes have been in my thoughts. These are the alternate-timeline scenes in which the film's protagonist, George Bailey, had never been born and was therefore not present at key moments to provide critical help for his family members, his friends and his town.

On Thursday, somewhere along the Iraq - Syria border, this kind of history-changing, vacuum-creating event took place in our real world when a military helicopter crashed, killing all seven people on board.

Among the lost was Tripp Zanetis, who I had known for about eight years through our common service on the board of directors of the New York University College of Arts & Science Alumni Association (of which I now serve as president).

I am worried that Tripp's death at the young age of 37 will leave a hole in our history similar to that experienced by the fictional Bedford Falls that never knew a George Bailey.

Because, I believe, if Tripp had lived into old age, he would have been a change-maker in our civic life. In fact, he already was one.

A member of the NYU College of Arts & Science Class of 2003, Tripp served as chair of the NYU Student Senators Council (a role which is basically NYU's student body president).

Almost immediately after his graduation, he became active in NYU alumni activities, serving as a faithful member of our various committees in between his tours of duty overseas and his work with the New York City Fire Department.

While earning his law degree at Stanford University in California, Tripp frequently called into our meetings, providing valuable insights of an active alumnus outside of the New York City area.

Be sure to read "Knock With Your Elbows," a beautiful tribute to Tripp by Michelle Wilde Anderson, one of his professors at Stanford Law.  This Facebook post by Tripp's friend Justin Fansler also is required reading. Michelle and Justin eloquently provide many more details on the impact of Tripp's life and service.

The last time I saw Tripp was at our "CAS Alumni Experience and Brand Ambassadors" committee meeting. I asked him then, as I always did, when he was going to let me run his campaign for Congress, only half-joking as we did expect him to run for office one day.

On that night, Tripp flashed his handsome smile and explained he was about to head back to Iraq so any thoughts of political campaigns would have to be postponed a little longer. (But, as you can see from Tripp's Twitter account, our current political crisis was very much in his thoughts.)

But now, that run for New York City Council or U.S. Congress will never happen.

And, Tripp will never be one of my successors as president of the NYU CAS Alumni Association.

And, and, and ... 

But, into this vacuum we must try to step.

In our own ways, we must try to do acts of service and acts of kindness to fill the void left by the tragic end of Tripp's wonderful life.