Swarthmore mourns sudden student death

A Swarthmore College sophomore, who built his own motorcycle and dreamed of one day running a video game development studio, died Sunday after a skateboard accident on the campus’ Magill Walk on Friday afternoon.

The sudden death of Sam Jenkins of Wickford, R.I., has hit the close-knit campus hard.

rrxswat21-20032017-0001
Sam Jenkins, a sophomore at Swarthmore College, died Sunday after a skateboard accident on the campus’ Magill Walk Friday afternoon.

“It’s impossible, particularly in an email, to convey the depth of this loss to Sam’s family and our community,” Swarthmore president Valerie Smith wrote to the Swarthmore staff and students Sunday morning.

Jenkins, she wrote at that time, “is in the process of passing away, which has been prolonged to fulfill Sam’s wish to serve as an organ donor.” He died later that day.

The college did not provide many details on the accident, except to say that students who saw that Jenkins was hurt immediately called 911 and stayed with him while emergency personnel assisted. Magill is the main walk up to the college’s primary administration building. Jenkins was transported to Crozer-Chester Medical Center for surgery, and his family had been there with him since Friday, she said.

The college held a gathering at the Friends Meeting House on campus Sunday afternoon, and early Monday afternoon Smith sent another email with remembrances of Jenkins, whom she called a “creative, joyful, and gentle individual whose infectious enthusiasm and genuine kindness made a lasting impact on our community.”

The sense of loss on the campus was palpable, even among students who didn’t know him.

“Everyone knew someone who did,” said Aru Shiney-Ajay, a freshman from Minnesota.

Jenkins was an information technology associate at Swarthmore, helping to staff the college’s Help desk. He described himself as a “designer of meaningful fun” and planned to pursue a special major in video game design, Smith wrote.

The week before spring break, Jenkins confirmed he was making the right choice when he attended a game developers conference, Smith wrote.

His Facebook page shows he was concerned about the environment, signing petitions in support of the Environmental Protection Agency and a movement to protect Florida’s water from radioactive waste last month.

He also enjoyed riding a motorcycle, having built one himself. On his Facebook page, he wrote of riding on a mountain pass in the Swiss Alps.

“This may have been my favorite road,” he wrote.

Born in North Kingstown, R.I., Jenkins played hockey at La Salle Academy in Providence and continued to play at Swarthmore as a goalie.

He was a member of the college’s circus club and a performer in Semara Santi, Swarthmore’s Balinese gamelan ensemble. He helped others learn how to play instruments, Smith wrote.


Jenkins liked bright colors and often wore shorts or bathing trunks no matter how warm or cold it was, as well as full-bodied onesies, Smith wrote.

“What I will remember most about Sam, having taught him in two classes this year, is his unbridled enthusiasm, infectious laughter, passion, honesty, fearlessness, curiosity and empathy,” Rodney Evans, visiting assistant professor of film and media studies, said in a statement included in Smith’s email.

Smith said the college would provide details on a memorial service when they become available.