When friends, acquaintances and members of the Knox community remember days brightened by Sekinat Olamitundun Lawani ’14, the image of her smile naturally comes to mind.
Tundun, as her peers affectionately call her, is no longer present to lift the spirits of those around her, as the result of a traffic incident early Sunday morning.
In determining if there is anything one should know about Lawani before meeting her, junior Yetunde Durotoye insisted that her disposition would become evident upon seeing her.
“They wouldn’t really have to know anything. Her smile tells it all … very cheerful. Even if you didn’t talk to her, you could tell she had a very bright personality,” Durotoye said.
An action that characterizes Lawani and her desire to spread love throughout her group of friends, and the campus as a whole, is the fact that she would distribute anonymous love letters.
“Basically, she would write letters to you and say that someone wrote it to you and gave it to her to give to you. …She’d say, ‘I have a love letter, someone really likes you so you’re getting a love letter,’” junior Kwesi Addo-Yobo said.
“She’d write, ‘You’re my rainbow,’” sophomore Jojo Opoku said.
Sometimes her efforts went beyond fictional letters.
“She was always interested in pairing people up. Sometimes she would ask you if you liked the person and sometimes she would tell you that you did,” sophomore Mamaa Ackah said.
She was also a strong advocate of whatever interested her at the time, passing her books and newly acquired products along to her friends.
“She was always promoting something. It could’ve been a new drink or a particular kind of makeup remover, but as soon as she was into it you better be into it … she would literally be like, ‘Have this, try this,’” Durotoye said.
According to the group, Lawani enjoyed reading romance novels and watching movies and dramatic television shows.
At the same time, like the characters in her favorite novels, she would keep tabs on her friends’ slip-ups and then use them as blackmail. Lawani would keep a journal called a “shell book” of her friends’ verbal faux pas and mispronounced words.
“She had this thing she did where if someone said something wrong, she would write it down. She actually had a book, but she would never write her own mistakes. She’d always frame someone with her ‘shell book,’” Opoku said.
However, she was more reserved about her own life.
“You’d have to coax any information about her life out of her though,” Durotoye said.
Her ability to keep others upbeat despite her feelings was a welcome presence in her sorority’s chapter.
“She never really had bad days. Even if she told you she was having a bad day, her next sentence would make you crack up in laughter. She made sure that even if she was having a bad day you were having a good one,” junior Delta Delta Delta sister Lizzy Rodgers said.
The selflessness Lawani exhibited was not limited to her close friends.
“She was in a class one time and there was this girl that she didn’t even know who was crying and left the room. So she followed her and asked her what was wrong. When the girl told her it was a long complicated story she just said, ‘So? Tell me what’s wrong,’” junior Delta sister Sophia Mwaura said.
Lawani was never hesitant in letting her friends know how appreciative she was of their presence.
“She used to say, ‘You make my day,’ when the truth is that she would make ours,” Junior Abesh Aziz said.
Lawani’s main pleasure came from activities that would bring friends together, like cooking and watching movies.
“She loved us hanging out together; she always wanted us to be together,” Ackah said.
Her friends repeatedly expressed the fact that she was a mother figure to the group.
“She fed me when I was hungry during the summer, when my brother [junior Nana Opoku] had his accident,” Opoku said. “I didn’t plan on staying on campus, but when my brother had his accident, he was in Peoria, and I couldn’t stay in a hotel during the whole summer. I was broke as hell, so I had to improvise, and she was taking classes at Carl Sandburg. I was staying with [sophomore Azumah Cofie] and I was a hungry man, and she would always bring me food.”
“She was like a mother. I used to say that I couldn’t wait to see how her children would turn out,” Durotoye said.
“Most importantly, she was passionate about religion, caring about people,” Ackah said. “She always wanted us to have a smile and be strong.”
The group characterized Lawani as a very spiritual person.
“In the mornings and the evenings, she would have devotional sessions with everyone in the house. She would call us all into her room and have us sit down and pray and just read the Bible and tell us about what it means to her and asked our opinions on it. She was really trying to get herself right with God. She really trusted in Him,” Ackah said.
Director of the Umoja Gospel Choir Jessie Dixon and senior Tarere Eyimina spoke about Luwani’s involvement in the choir and her love for singing.
The choir was restarted this year in the fall, and Lawani was involved, despite holding other responsibilities.
“She was there for the very first performance, which was two weeks after we started … Tundun was excited to sing and learn the parts,” Dixon said.
Dixon felt that Lawani brought “joy” to the choir.
“That’s what you saw, what was projected as she was coming out and singing the songs, grooving with the songs,” she said. “And then praise, because sometimes you don’t know where people are coming from spiritually, or their religious background, so the fact that she was able to come and sing with people and connect with them projected that positive spirit, that energy.”
Her positive spirit made Lawani an important member of choir and very much appreciated by her fellow members.
“It was a great, great, great pleasure to sing with her, especially because before we started rehearsal she said that she could sing and we all made fun of her that she couldn’t … The fact that she came back at the second rehearsal, I was really happy because she was actually committing to this. I definitely know that everyone was blessed to know her and her bubbly personality,” Eyimina said.
Her fellow singers will miss her cheerful demeanor during rehearsals and concerts, even when she was struggling.
“During a good song, a good tune, she just flows with it. I know that she definitely enjoyed all the songs and was really happy to be singing those songs,” Eyimina said.
“I remember her asking me once, because it was only two weeks into rehearsing, and she told me that she didn’t know the words to this one song and I said, ‘Just say watermelon’, and we just laughed and laughed.”
“She asked me, ‘You’ll feed us the words, right?’ And I said, ‘I will I will,’” Dixon said.
As a Delta member, she was known for her distinct personality.
“A supportive sister, a leader in our organization … you could never make her be anyone but Tundun.” Senior Delta sister Katie Wrenn said. “That individuality made our chapter, and our members, better. It showed us that if I can be a diva myself, with an awesome bright personality and all of my quirks, yet still get along with everyone, then so can you.”
“I think Tundun represented someone that was incredibly special and different from everyone, she had her own way of going in life, and it was an amazing way … She was my favorite diva,” Wrenn said.
Lawani had an ability to focus on the task at hand, despite the numerous other responsibilities calling for her attention.
“She always seemed to live in the moment … Oftentimes you might be at a sisterhood event, and you may be thinking about other things you need to get done, but I never saw that look on her face,” Wrenn said.
As president of the Harambee Club, Lawani served as a unifying force, socially and spiritually. Africa Week was an initiative dear to Lawani’s heart and will be held in her honor.
Lawani had a variety of interests, according to Professor of Political Science Lane Sunderland, her academic adviser.
“She had declared a major in international relations and a minor in business and management, but she was also quite taken with anthropology and sociology,” Sunderland said. “The thing that impressed me about the way she organized her academic work was that she also took classical piano lessons, voice class lessons; her interests were broad. Including fiction writing, digital photography and literature. So in that respect she was an ideal liberal arts student.”
Sunderland was impressed with how seriously she appeared to take herself when going to class.
“She always came to class dressed very nicely. As if class was clearly an important occasion,” Sunderland said.
Opoku sums up Lawani in her entirety, as she submitted all of herself into every one of her endeavors.
“She was so extra,” Opoku said.
Kyle Cruz and Gabrielle Rajerison contributed to this report.