Nearly a half-hour before the scheduled vigil for Penn State student Timothy Piazza, a group of onlookers had already begun assembling on the Old Main lawn.
Over the course of the next 15 minutes, the crowd would steadily inflate, continuing to push outward toward the darkness of the lawn until there was precious little room to move or even to light the candles that had been passed gingerly from hand to hand.
The low whispers that had accompanied earlier arrivals had since fallen into a hush, and it seemed that without the traffic of human speech, the air was free to hang still, thick with the solemnity of the occasion.
It was another 10 minutes or so before someone took a place in front of the microphone standing no more than a quarter of the way up the building’s massive staircase. There were introductions to be made, intentions to be declared — but it didn’t really matter.
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These people knew why they were here. These people had come to honor Timothy Piazza, who died Feb. 4 from injuries suffered from a fall at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house on 220 N. Burrowes St. His death has been ruled accidental.
“Every single person he interacted with left with nothing but the greatest impression of him,” Olivia Rothseid, Thon’s operations director, said.
Piazza, a sophomore, was a volunteer with the IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, the world’s largest student-run philanthropy.
The organization collaborated with the Interfraternity Council to arrange Sunday’s vigil, which called on family members, friends and collaborators to bring Piazza back to life, even if just for an hour.
He was remembered mostly for his good humor, of the rare breed that exists not to call attention to its owner, but as an act of genuine kindness and fellowship.
“Many of you knew my brother, but many of you didn’t, which is a shame because he was a really great guy,” said Michael Piazza.
He described his younger sibling as a little kid in a big kid’s body, the jolly giant who wouldn’t quit until he could get a laugh out of everyone in the room.
Timothy’s parents, Evelyn and James Piazza, said a few words.
“I can’t say enough about the support we’re getting in this community,” James Piazza said.
He urged the students to be safe and to exemplify the same trait that in the last week has become a hallmark of his son’s legacy. As many of the people who took the microphone on Sunday evening could attest, Timothy Piazza never hesitated to help anyone in need.