Staff Writer, Lake Worth
A somber crowd gathered in the rain for a candlelight vigil in MLK Plaza on Feb. 5, uniting in grief at the loss of well-respected and beloved staff member Dacota Stewart-Dick.
As mourners huddled under tents seeking refuge from the stormy weather, a rainbow broke through the clouds overhead – a fitting display of symbolism for a woman who made a career out of being a bright spot in the lives of students.
Stewart-Dick, who police say was killed during a domestic dispute with her husband Alrick Oral Brown on Feb. 2, was the manager of Palm Beach State’s First-Year Experience program. The program provides guidance to incoming freshman and eases the transition to college life. Ms. Stewart-Dick was often one of the first people new students forged relationships with on campus. A collective state of shock persisted for the Palm Beach State College community following the news of her passing.
The college issued the following statement as students and faculty alike struggled to cope with the senseless loss of one of their own: “The Palm Beach State College community is mourning the loss of Dacota Stewart-Dick. As the First-Year Experience program leader, she was a special friend and mentor to our incoming students, one of the first to welcome them to Palm Beach State as they began their educational journey. For faculty and staff, she was a trusted colleague who was always warm, positive and a joyful presence. We hold her in our hearts and extend our deepest sympathy to her family.”
Other institutions in academia are mourning as well. Colleagues described Stewart-Dick as “fiercely dedicated to education”. Before arriving at Palm Beach State three years ago, she was the highly-regarded director of the Early College High School STAR program at Brooklyn College.
“The entire Brooklyn College community was in a state of shock when we received the news of Dacota’s death on Monday morning. I have been receiving phone calls and emails from her colleagues and friends all over the CUNY system and beyond expressing their respect for her work with our academic programs as well as expressing an admiration of her deep dedication, passion and commitment to the students she served,” said Deborah Shanley, Dean of Brooklyn College.
Former students came together on Twitter and Facebook, expressing their sadness at the passing of an educator many remarked they had been close to. Patrice Jack, a former Brooklyn student, said simply, “She served us well.”
At the vigil, students both current and past held hands as the crowd participated in a rendition of “Lean On Me”, followed by John Lennon’s “Imagine”, a song that those close to her agreed was one of Stewart-Dick’s favorites.
Various Palm Beach State College staff members, who considered Dacota much more than a co-worker, spoke in her honor amid a crowd at times tearful, at times smiling at the memory of an anecdote.
Dr. Peter Barbatis, Vice President of Student Services, returned from a trip just in time to sum up his feelings with a quote from the Broadway musical Wicked that he said evoked thoughts of his colleague: “I’ve heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason, bringing something we must learn. And we are led to those who help us most to grow if we let them and we help them in return. Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true, but I know I’m who I am today because I knew you.”