The following is an abridged version of the story Memorializing a Fallen Friend Through Service that appears on page 8 of the summer 2016 edition of The Magazine of Sigma Chi. To nominate a brother for the Mark V. Anderson Character-in-Action Leadership Award, email your answers to the questions posed under the “Nominate a Brother for the Award” section of the award’s web page to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the late summer of 2012, 18-year-old Xavier Somerville’s life was cut short when he fell from a fifth-floor balcony in Indianapolis, succumbing to his injuries a short time later at a nearby hospital. In addition to being his high school’s Homecoming king, Somerville had recently accepted an offer to pledge the Purdue chapter, where he had planned to enroll that fall.
“Xavier was the most charismatic kid I’ve ever met in my life,” says Ben Waters, PURDUE 2016. “I got my bid on a Monday, and he got his on Wednesday. On Thursday morning, I woke up to a text from him asking to grab lunch. That’s just the kind of person he was, to want to connect and get to know another person who would someday become his brother.”
Though their relationship had lasted only for the better part of a month from when the pair had begun the recruitment process, Waters was intent on finding a way to honor Somerville’s spirit. To that end, Waters worked in the spring of 2015 to create the Xavier Project, through which he and Bryan Hall, PURDUE 2016; Jake Clark, PURDUE 2016; and Cam Sanders, PURDUE 2015; traveled to nine cities around the United States the following summer — with Will Shifrin, PURDUE 2016, joining them for the last three legs of their journey — to take part in opportunities to volunteer and improve the communities that they visited.
“In each city, we’d show up and call a bunch of churches and non-profit organizations, explain who we were and what we were doing, and ask if they knew a family or individual in need that we could help while we were there for the week,” explains Waters.
In order from beginning to end, they spent one week each in Chicago; Milwaukee; Norfolk, Va.; Dallas; Houston; Phoenix; San Francisco; Denver and Indianapolis, coming away from each city with the knowledge that they had performed good works in Somerville’s honor.
In addition to the Xavier Project participants keeping their chapter brothers, donors and other interested parties up-to-date with an Instagram account, found at instagram.com/thexavierproject2015, the brothers also partnered with a high-school classmate of Somerville’s to produce documentary-style videos recapping their efforts in each city. Those videos are available for viewing on YouTube at bit.ly/thexavierproject2015.
More than anything, the Xavier Project participants seem happy that they were able to honor their fallen friend’s legacy.
“It was hard to get a sense of that during the project because it was right in front of me all the time, but afterward I came to understand that a lot of folks were shocked that we did this in honor of a single person that we only knew for a short period of time,” says Hall. “It’s very humbling, and I’m just extremely proud that we were able to honor Xavier in a meaningful way.”