I knew Hannah while in college. She and I were both involved in a student-led backpacking organization called Project Wilderness Initiatives for Learning at Duke (also known Project WILD or PWILD). She was the sort of person that radiated warmth and joy in all of her interactions. To say that she had a deep ability to listen and empathize I think is an understatement. It is no surprise that everybody in PWILD who knew her really loved her and that she went on to have an amazing career in journalism.
I had the pleasure of backpacking in Pisgah National Forest for about two days with Hannah. It was 2010, the summer before our sophomore year, and it was the first time we were staffing a PWILD backpacking trip as opposed to participating as crew. We were stationed in what is known as Djibouti, which is where staff lead and belay rock climbing for incoming freshmen at Duke. Staff in Djibouti take turns overseeing other duties, and also take turns taking a couple of days off to go on a pair hike. I was super excited to learn that I got matched with Hannah for my pair hike.
Pictures from our pair hike are posted here [below]. Unfortunately, I don’t remember much about our conversations while we backpacked. Though I do remember some things, vaguely. In PWILD I was usually one of the slower backpackers and needed a lot of breaks. Instead of getting annoyed by my relative slowness, however, Hannah showed great patience and kindness throughout our entire hike. It wasn’t much, but I really appreciated that. I also remember that we set up our tent for the night somewhere near Devil’s Courthouse. And I am pretty sure we reflected on our day by playing “rose, bud, and thorn” before falling asleep.
I continued to be friends with Hannah for the remainder of college, but after graduating we never spoke again. I only followed her on social media. Over the past 1+ years in particular I really liked looking through her Instagram stories. A lot of what she posted related to the inequities and injustices that continue to occur in this country due systemic racism. As someone who is continuously trying to learn how to be an anti-racist and uplift the voices of those who are marginalized, I always got a lot out of what Hannah shared on her stories. I sometimes even shared what she posted with my own network.
Earlier this year, I think shortly after she met her partner, she posted a series of videos of her letting loose and dancing to her heart’s content in what looked to be a park somewhere. Watching her dance literally put a smile on my face. I messaged her saying “Aww Hannah your dancing made me smile! Hope you are doing well. 🙂 ” She didn’t respond, but liked my message.
I am incredibly saddened that PWILD and the rest of the world lost Hannah. But I am glad that I got to meet her and know her. I will always remember her contagious smile, compassion, and beautiful singing voice.