A lone yellow butterfly was flying through the trees and garden at Cal State Bakersfield's Alumni Park April 24. Floating above koi fish and turtles in the park's pond, it seemed to admire a group of people gathered to celebrate the life of a student gone too soon, but who left a lasting legacy on campus.
The spot was Jason Quinn Kelly's favorite place on campus and exactly where he would want to be remembered, according to his brother Andrew Kelly.
Jason Quinn Kelly's friends, family and professors came together April 24 to remember a friend, son and student who they described as "angelic" and "caring" and whose "heart was so big he could carry the entire world in it."
"I love you, Jason, and I wish you were around to hear that," said Sean Kelly, his older brother, letting out tears with each word.
At around 8:50 p.m. April 2, 18-year-old Jason Quinn Kelly was hit by a truck in the 3200 block of Haley Street, according to the Bakersfield Police Department. He died at the scene, about a block from his house where he lived with his father, Leviak Kelly, and three brothers.
"At the end of every day and every morning ... we would hug and I would tell him, 'I'm not letting go.' He would kiss me on the nose and that was the cue to say 'I'm dead,'" Leviak Kelly said, choking back tears. "That day he kissed me on the nose and told him, 'I'm dead.'"
"'I'll give you a kiss when I come home,'" he remembers his son telling him.
"He never came home."
Jason Quinn Kelly, who went by Quinn at CSUB, first majored in biology with hopes of becoming a veterinarian. After taking an English course with Monica Ayuso last semester, he decided to double major in biology and English. He also took another course with her this semester.
"He was an angelic-looking child. A petite frame, long lustrous hair. Pale and radiant," Ayuso said. "Sometimes I thought his voice and delivery were particularly big for his small frame."
His final assignment for Ayuso, on the poem "Postcards from Kashmir," which he turned in the day he died, will be published in the next issue of CSUB's literary journal, Calliope. That issue will also be dedicated to him.
He wanted to be an activist and writer and cared about animals, the environment and the issues women, minorities and people with disabilities face, his brothers said. He even became friends with someone who was picking on him because he understood they were going through a tough time.
"Everything about him was wanting to make the world a better place," Sean Kelly said.
His brothers noted he dealt with inner struggles. On the outside he was outgoing and sociable with a smile that made him seem "invincible." On the inside, however, he was shy, anxious about socializing and afraid of being forgotten.
"He would always bounce back up," Sean Kelly said. "It's not how many times you fall, it's how many times you can get back up and brush yourself off. That was the kind of person he was, no matter what."
His father said he "knew he was happy" the day he died.
Before he died, he was working on a superhero story with his father. Leviak Kelly said his son wrote a chapter, and when he read it, he said it was like "being blind and your eyes opening up to color for the first time."
"Because of him I could see poetry in the world again," he said.
CSUB President Lynnette Zelezny also gave a few remarks at the memorial, sharing that the death of a student impacts the entire community.
"I never had the honor of meeting Quinn, but my heart has been warmed by the many stories I have heard from his family, friends and professors," she said. "We're celebrating someone who is truly special."
His father closed the memorial by sharing a message in Gaelic, with the yellow butterfly floating close by.
"I love you, Quinn. Your soul is in my heart. We honor you. You shall not die for we remember. Eternal memory to you, my son. Reside in Our Lady."