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Remembering K Zhan ’25

April 5, 2024

Courtesy of Alicia Scott
Qingyang "K" Zhan '25 (seated) is surrounded by friends at a Lunar New Year celebration.

A daughter, a sister, a friend and a student, Qingyang Zhan—better known to the Bowdoin community as K—touched the lives of so many people with whom she crossed paths. Born in Shanghai, China, K lived in California from 2019 until she came to Bowdoin in 2021. At Bowdoin, she founded the Chinese Students Association (CSA), played percussion in the Bowdoin College Concert Band, and was involved in both the Asian Student Association (ASA) and the International Student Association (ISA)—all while double-majoring in Asian Studies and Government and Legal Studies with a concentration in Political Theory. K Zhan ’25 was the very best that Bowdoin had to offer.

Professor of Asian Studies and Cinema Studies Shu-chin Tsui, with whom K worked closely for three years, felt that the following words described K best: vocal, talented,‭ ‬阳光 (sunny), social and strong. Following K’s passing over the weekend, those who knew and loved K miss her for all those reasons, as well as for a million more.

In the classroom, K’s passionate, relentless but respectful attitude towards learning immediately impressed her peers and professors alike. During her first year, K took Tsui’s “Hollywood Imaginations of Asia” course, a class that served as the bedrock of K’s relationship with Tsui for the next three years.

“She was so vocal, not shy at all,” Tsui said. “She would impress people on their first impression. She very often would speak against other people’s ideas. I said, ‘Oh my god, who is this girl? So sharp, so daring!’ I would introduce a topic and she would argue with me in class.”

K’s daring presence in the classroom was in full force in the political theory classes she often took with Professor of Government and Legal Studies Jean Yarbrough. K had the rare ability to debate other students with both passion and poise. She would advocate relentlessly for positions she believed to be true, all while ensuring the debate never crossed any lines.

“She was combative in the best sort of way,” Yarbrough said. “She was eager to ask the most difficult questions, to take positions she felt strongly about and to argue them endlessly. Class would be over and [K] would still be pressing her point with the student she was arguing with…. She was one of a kind in that way. She was dogged in pursuit of what she thought was true and right and good. She had so much spirit and intellectual courage.”

K’s relentlessness did not deter her peers. If anything, it drew classmates closer to her. Sofia Fogg ’26, a classmate of K’s in several political theory courses, was inspired by K’s love of knowledge and debate.

“She sparked something in people who spoke with her. The way she talked about the things she read made you want to find that same love…. She had a literal flame. She wanted to fight with such conviction about her beliefs and about the things she loved. And she did that daily,” Fogg said.

While K’s doggedness showed through in her political theory classes, her other coursework exemplified her unrelenting creativity. K took Japanese language classes for three years at Bowdoin, meaning that her linguistic skills extended to four languages: Chinese, English, French and Japanese.

In an email to the Orient, Associate Professor of Asian Studies Vyjayanthi Selinger explained how K’s creativity and humor shined in the final project for her junior fall Japanese language course with Senior Lecturer in Japanese Language Hiroo Aridome. The project involved creating a long video where students were required to act out clever scenarios in a skit.

“[K]’s project featured two cats, one who wanted to go on vacation and the other a travel agent giving free advice (she loved cats!),” Selinger wrote. “It was unique and entertaining, and watching was a riot. Only K would have thought to voice over cats. K was on a whole other level, and she will be so missed.”

K had a knack for first impressions. Bowdoin College Concert Band Director John Morneau, who worked closely with K for all six of her semesters at the College in her role as a percussionist, immediately recognized her free-spirited and unique nature.

“She came in as this bright blue-haired, free-flowing person—giddy and very outgoing from hair to foot. Just full of energy, full of enthusiasm, full of life. People who came to our concerts told me they loved watching that girl with the blue hair,” he said.

As K continued to come back to the concert band semester after semester, her relationship with Morneau deepened. K would show up to rehearsals early to set everything up and stay long after to help take everything down. Oftentimes, she would stay late just to chat with Morneau about life. Before rehearsals began, Morneau would simply hand K a list containing the percussion requirements for the arrangement, and K would coordinate with the other people in the section to figure out who was playing what.

“She was my captain back there—my go-to person,” Morneau said. “She was a leader in so many ways, and it wasn’t because I asked her to be or because I insisted she be. She just took it upon herself. She looked at the situation and said, ‘This is what we need. If it helps us get better, that’s what I’m going to do.’”

While K served as Morneau’s point person for all things percussion, her effective leadership never clashed with her light-spirited charm that John noticed the very first time they met.

“Before we start a piece I always check with percussion to see if they’re ready, and she would give me these really exaggerated gestures or thumbs-ups or waves. Oftentimes, she just comes into the room, cracks a big smile and waves in a goofy type of way. In a way that no matter how bad a day you’re having, you can’t help but smile and feel better,” Morneau said. “I teach for people like K. She made me feel better. I hope I made her feel better.”

K’s willingness to help and uplift others was not limited to her professors. Ceren Sengun ’26 is a percussionist in the Concert Band and has played alongside K for the last year and a half. While the pair had a bond outside of the recital hall, it was K’s outreach, silliness and unrelenting niceness to Sengun that set the groundwork for their friendship. In between percussion sets, the two could be seen bobbing up and down, dancing together. If there was a piece that had no percussion roles, K and Sengun might sneak outside the side stage door and talk.

“I thought K was a senior last year because she was taking care of everything. She taught me all the instruments. She was very patient…. She would laugh about everything,” Sengun said.

Courtesy of Alicia Scott
K holds up her calligraphy at an event in Kanbar Hall.

In all of her different spaces, K’s peers reflected on how she worked vehemently to ensure everyone felt included and welcome. From the Studzinski Recital Hall to the Lunar New Year celebrations at Howell House, K continuously encouraged new people to join her in the things she felt so passionately about.

One of these people was Elizabeth Chmielewski ’26. Chmielewski first officially met K this past semester when Alicia Scott—K’s unofficial host mom and Brunswick community member who plays in the concert band—introduced the two of them after a rehearsal. K invited Chmielewski, who is also Chinese, to join in the Lunar New Year celebrations in February.

K orchestrated the event, and according to Chmielewski and Scott, the celebrations went just as K envisioned. Attendees ate dumplings, practiced calligraphy and spoke Chinese in the company of one another.

“She went to the store and came back with so many ingredients—it was insane,” Chmielewski said. “There were five different meats…. K was making sure everyone had a job and was having fun.”

Scott reminisced on K’s organization of the night in a written statement to the Orient.

“K put me to work chopping bok choy and cabbage, as [Chmielewski] formed the dumplings. It was a fun and late night and very successful for K, who planned the whole thing,” Scott wrote.

The next day, the four of them—K, Elizabeth, Alica and Norm (Alicia’s husband)—all drove down to Cape Elizabeth for the Chinese & American Friendship Association of Maine (CAFAM)’s Lunar New Year celebrations.

While Chmielewski was initially hesitant to spend two days straight with someone she had just met, K quickly eased any worry in Chmielewski’s mind.

“She was so easy to talk to, so easy to laugh with. It didn’t feel like I was talking to a stranger I had never met. That day—just hanging out with her—we were so close even though we had never hung out before. It just felt so easy to be with her,” Chmielewski said.

While at the CAFAM Lunar New Year celebration, K surprised Professor Tsui by attending a talk she was scheduled to give as a part of the event’s programming. For Tsui, it embodied the kindness K spread to those close to her.

“In the middle of my talk, I saw K was sitting there. I stopped my talk. I said, ‘Hey K, what are you doing here?’ It’s not her job, [she did] not have to go to [Cape Elizabeth]. But she was there,” Tsui said.

Back in the classroom, K continued to find connections with her peers even in a space as daunting as political theory courses. Fogg recalled the first time she met K in 2022.

“Notoriously, lecture classes aren’t where we are building community here, but she sat next to me as a first year. She struck up a conversation with me and exchanged phone numbers. I had an interest in classical political philosophy, and she had some amazing takes on Aquinas,” Fogg said.

According to Fogg, K emphasized how important it was for the two of them to stick together, as political theory classes are often male-dominated spaces. Later, when the pair were in one of Professor Yarbrough’s classes together, K helped ease some of Fogg’s anxieties about Yarbrough’s essay-writing expectations.

“She gave me the rundown that I now give first years when they seem lost or scared. I remember K telling me, ‘You’ve got this, take these steps, do these things.’ She saved me on those first couple of papers with her guidance, her support, her willingness to help people,” Fogg said.

Morneau relied on K for help in Concert Band. Tsui relied on her for teaching assistance. Students like Fogg, Sengun and Chmielewski leaned on her for friendship and help in and out of the classroom. In the eyes of her professors and peers, K was charming and vibrant and direct, and her tangible gifts and talents never failed to go unnoticed.

Within a year, she went from never having played percussion to being the section’s leader. As a first year, K approached Tsui to do research work for her. This semester, K was Tsui’s learning assistant for her Chinese Calligraphy course. Her drive in the classroom, in rehearsals and in the spaces of her affinity groups made K Zhan a go-to person for so many of her peers.

Every person who spoke with the Orient vibrantly recalled the first time they met K. Her first impressions blew people away. For Alicia Scott, K was special from the first second they spent together.

“I felt as if I already knew her, because she was so outgoing and effervescent,” Scott said. “I believe that anyone who has met K would instantly adore her.”

On Wednesday, President Safa Zaki announced a memorial gathering for K. The service will take place on Saturday, April 6 at 1 p.m. and will be held in Kanbar Auditorium in Studzinski Recital Hall. A reception in the Maine Lounge at Moulton Union will follow.


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One comment:

  1. Radu Stochita ('22) says:

    Rest in peace, K! May it be brighter where you are right now.

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