In Loving Memory

Peter Cai came down three floors of stairs to sit on my floor. He was responding to my Facebook message, a plea sent after I spent much time searching for who might be able to help me with my first Math 21a problem set. Peter was the lucky one who was both in the class and my freshman dorm, Weld. Here, we first met.

Peter’s response to that unsolicited—and I’m sure, a bit weird—Facebook message foretold the person I would come to know. He came down to my room almost immediately and helped me figure it out. He patiently and humbly explained the material.

In terms of school, Peter could figure it all out. He excelled in his concentration, molecular and cellular biology. Even more, he excelled in courses outside of his area of study. He was working on a secondary field in economics, and he often helped me with my own economics work, even though he always erroneously referred to me, the econ concentrator, as the expert.

I was never as good as Peter at figuring things out, and I certainly cannot figure out why he was taken from us too soon. But what I do know about Peter is what I would like to share.

Peter was the smartest and kindest person I have met at Harvard. He was, first and foremost, a loving friend who changed the lives of his blockmates, classmates, and everyone he met. He was always busy. Looking at his accomplishments and activities is a lesson in achievement. Peter was incredibly active in all of his courses and his research. He also found time to perform as a violinist in the Mozart Society Orchestra and serve as an English-language tutor for the Phillips Brooks House Association’s Chinatown tutoring program. But he never let his activities come in the way of his friends. He immediately welcomed you in with a warm hello, and he always seemed to know what you were up to. Peter remembered what courses you were taking, what was going on in your clubs, and what your parents were working on.

Despite his intimidating accomplishments, he exuded warmth and fun. He was a talented dancer, the life of the party. He enjoyed working out, and we often teased him for his sleeveless workout gear. He was not, as we said, the stereotypical Harvard pre-med.

Peter lived in Weld 51, a now infamous freshmen suite that, thanks to him and his roommates’ parties, saw constant streams of, as he once put it to me, “guests/girls/animals/things/food/drinks.” We had Nip/Tuck marathons and weekly Grey’s Anatomy viewings. He cheerfully powered through them all, and although he admitted he was terribly squeamish watching medicine on television, he clarified he was an absolute stoic in real life. Peter’s own bedroom was filled with his meticulous notebooks and snacks.

I returned briefly to Weld 51 last May with Peter, Tom Lawless, and Christine Li, his girlfriend. We went there, as well as the Weld Observatory, to remember where our friendship began. The inhabitants of Weld 51 seemed less fun then we remembered ourselves.

To us, Weld seemed changed: quiet, less exciting. But our conversation lasted late into the night, and I am positive it is one of our best memories of Harvard. I know Peter held it close to his heart, because he told us so the following morning. Peter was never afraid to show affection or let others know they were loved.

Peter loved Harvard. He dreamed of attending this school. He loved what he was doing and those whom he was with. And Harvard is returning that love. Hundreds have come to pay their respects just this weekend. President Faust and Dean Hammonds have paid personal visits to the family. The Adams House masters and tutors, along with members of the Quincy community, UHS, and even HUDS, have come out to support Peter and his family. I am sure that the service in his honor at Memorial Church tomorrow at 12 p.m. will be full of those whom Peter touched during his years on campus.

It has been my great fortune, along with my friends, to be able to speak with Peter’s parents this weekend. It is clear where Peter found his intelligence, strength, and love. They consoled Peter’s friends and made us stronger, even though we were supposed to be consoling them. They are heroes.

My only framed picture in this world of Facebook photos is a picture of myself, Peter, Christine, and Tom at last year’s Bacchanalia. It was a gift for my birthday from Peter and Christine. The note that accompanied it is taped on my wall above my desk. Their notes to me from birthdays, holidays, and other special occasions often got me through difficult times. Or, at least, times I thought were difficult. Many worries now seem less important when faced with the loss of Peter.

Harvard has lost one of its best. One of its brightest. One of its most loving. We celebrate his life by loving and giving as he did.

Katherine A. Petti ’10, a Crimson advertising manager, is an economics concentrator in Quincy House.