Parker Chapel was packed on the morning of Sunday, Nov. 5. Pews were filled with friends, family, teammates and classmates who cared about Cayley Mandadi. Not everyone there knew each other, but all were connected by the desire to celebrate a life. Everyone held hands during the Lord’s prayer, even if they were strangers.
Cayley’s memorial service was entirely student-organized. Dominique Hussain, sophomore and friend of Cayley since their first year at Trinity, was the primary planner of the event. She picked the time and chose the speakers.
“I just made sure that everything was in place and how Cayley would have wanted it to be, like the right photos and the right people talking. We tried to just convey a lot of love and show what she was about,” Hussain said.
Indeed, the service was respectful and beautiful. Parker Chapel shone with its usual dark wood glow, illuminated by candles. At the front of the room was an image of Mandadi smiling brightly into the camera. The picture was surrounded by lush bundles of red roses, Mandadi’s favorite flower.
The service began with an introduction by Stephen Nickle, university chaplain, who noted that when people gather together as a community during times of suffering and loss, the load is transformed “” not necessarily lightened, perhaps even made heavier, but transformed nonetheless.
Next came a slide show portraying Cayley’s life, starting with baby pictures, moving into images of childhood and high school, and culminating in photos taken on campus, of Cayley with her Chi Beta Epsilon sorority sisters and of her with the cheer team on the football field. A few pictures got laughs “” in one, a young Mandadi wore what looked like a lab coat and blue rubber gloves and held onto a duck that was almost as big as her. In another, Cayley and a friend held “Not My President” signs at the Austin Women’s March.
By far the longest and most impactful portion of the ceremony consisted of Mandadi’s loved ones sharing memories. The vast majority of speakers were Trinity students. They had been on the cheer team with Cayley, had been sorority sisters, had just loved her or all of the above.
One friend remembered when both she and Cayley really wanted ice cream cake, so they drove all around San Antonio looking for it. When they finally found the cake, it was expensive and not very good, but they posted the adventure all over Snapchat anyway. Other memories included a spur-of-the-moment trip to get nose piercings, funny stories from Comic Con and Mandadi’s determination never to let a tree come between her and a friend while walking, lest the universe end up separating them. Her spontaneity was a common theme. Most also marveled at Cayley’s confidence, the way she lit up a room and commanded attention.
Ariana Conway, junior environmental science major and Chi Beta Epsilon member, expressed in a later interview that Cayley was more than her physical appearance.
“Everyone always said that she’s pretty, but once you got to know her it was so plain to see that she was more than just a pretty girl. She would do anything for her friends, and she was always happy and smiling and laughing. I just wish more people could see that she was pretty on the inside, too,” Conway said.
Together the speakers painted a vivid picture of a loving, encouraging girl who was a bit of a procrastinator, a Star Trek fan, passionate about the Trinity community and her role in it, bold in her actions and unwavering in her support for her friends.
At the reception after the service, friends of Mandadi signed cards and wrote down more memories of her life on index cards, which would then be shared with Cayley’s family.
Snacks were also served. Hussain explained that each snack, from mozzerella sticks to Uncrustables sandwiches, was either one of Mandadi’s favorites or a reference to a funny story involving her.
“Her personality was definitely represented,” Hussain said.
Sophomore Jett Birchum, who was close to Cayley and spoke at the memorial, was content with how all aspects of the ceremony were handled.
“A lot of sincere things were said there. I think the people that did show up were the people that needed to be there,” Birchum said.
As of now, there are no plans for future events memorializing Mandadi. Perhaps the next step for us as a campus is to let Cayley’s spirit radiate through our daily lives by sticking by our friends, our teammates and our loved ones, going on spontaneous adventures, and lighting up whatever rooms we can, even “” or especially “” when it’s so dark that we can barely see.