Photo by Mary Elisabeth
Gathered in the Amphitheatre holding roses and candles, the Pepperdine community honored Autumn Tennison the evening of March 9.
The Chaplain’s Office hosted a prayer vigil March 9, to provide a time of “prayer, remembrance, and reflection of Autumn’s life and her precious impact on the Pepperdine community,” according to a March 8 email from the office.
“Autumn would have loved this,” Autumn’s mother Eleanor Tennison said during the event. “She would love seeing all of you being here for her.”
Autumn was a Seaver junior studying Creative Writing and a member of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority. She was sweet, kind, loving and forgiving, Eleanor Tennison said. Autumn loved writing — especially poetry and short fiction — the beach, dogs, graphic design and her family.
Autumn’s parents shared she died March 7 as a result of an accidental overdose of her ADHD medication.
University Chaplain Sara Barton opened the service with an address to the community and read a Bible passage Theta had selected from 1 Corinthians 13. Autumn’s sorority sisters stood as Barton read the verses.
Olivia Robinson, assistant director of Community Engagement and Service for the Hub for Spiritual Life, prayed over the vigil and the attendees gathered to remember Autumn.
Autumn’s Religion 301 teacher, Professor of Religion and Hispanic Studies Dan Rodriguez, shared some of her peers’ memories of Autumn.
“They described Autumn as incredibly kind and sensitive to the unspoken needs of those around her,” Rodriguez said. “And they said, while she was a quiet soul, she was not afraid to tell people that she loved them, and that she saw good things in them. People said that she had a very forgiving nature. And that she made each of her friends feel seen and heard.”
Others who knew and loved Autumn shared similar sentiments.
“Autumn was a sweet young woman who will be greatly missed,” English Professor Lisa Smith said in a University press release. “I spoke with Autumn while she was writing her spiritual autobiography for my spiritual writing class, and she shared with me her belief in the strength of God’s love for everyone and how she herself had experienced his love for herself. She had a heart that truly cared for others and shared with me about times that she had poured herself into helping others who struggled.”
Autumn was in frequent communication with her parents, even while at school, they said, calling at 2 a.m. CST thinking it was only midnight, like it was in Malibu.
Autumn’s parents also shared about her mental health struggles during the vigil.
“Even though we all know how much we cared for her, sometimes she couldn’t see it,” Eleanor Tennison said. “Sometimes she just felt like maybe some of you have felt — inadequate. Like you didn’t fit in, you weren’t worthy. That you weren’t special. And even though she was all those things, something in her just didn’t let her feel that or know it.”
Gary Tennison credited her service dog, Finley, and her best friend Justin Selva for helping her cope.
Despite the struggles, she loved life, Eleanor Tennison said.
“It was an accident,” Eleanor Tennison said. “She never, never intended to hurt herself. So I don’t want you guys to think that I don’t want you guys to remember her that way, because that wasn’t what happened.”
Gary Tennison encouraged those in attendance to reach out to those around them, make eye contact and just listen.
“I know after tonight you guys will go home, I’ll go home [but] I’m going to work my hardest to never forget my daughter and worry after all this is over,” Gary Tennison said. “I don’t want to be a memory — I just want her to snap[chat] me again and just talk to her.”
To end the memorial, Associate Chaplain Rachel Collins and Assistant Chaplain Peter Walton read Psalm 23. Worship Chaplain Ko Ku and Won by One each led a song of worship, Chiconia Anderson of the Counseling Center read an inspirational message and Zac Luben closed the service in prayer.
Theta members handed out pink and white roses to attendees and community members could take home a card with Autumn’s photo printed on the front and Jeremiah 29:11 on the back.
Pepperdine has several resources available to those looking for support including the Counseling Center, the Chaplain’s Office and the Student Care team.
Students can contact the Counseling Center at (310) 506-4210 or University Chaplain Sara Barton at (310) 506-4275.
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