Yesterday was a tough day for Columbia University’s students, particularly for us Italians. I did not know Davide personally, but I feel close to him somehow. Maybe because Italy is the homeland where we were both born, or maybe because the feeling that brings us Italian students in New York together is the same. Maybe it’s because last night, the one who was brutally murdered on that road that we are all used to walking down could have been me.
Reading the news on the morning of Friday, December 3, it was impossible for us Columbia students to not identify with Davide Giri, a 30-year-old Computer Science Ph.D. student who was killed for no reason.
Andrea Ciccarone, a 25-year-old native of Rome and a Ph.D. student in Economics at Columbia University, was shocked by the story and admits that it’s hard to explain in words how he feels right now. “That’s the road I take every day to go to the Department” says Andrea, who lives near where the aggression took place, “it’s shocking because [this attack] faces you with the unpredictability of life. (…) It’s something completely out of your control.”
The tragedy of Thursday night, December 2, in which Davide Giri was the victim of a sudden and unpredictable attack, made us all reflect. As an Italian student at Columbia, the impact of the news was shattering. We international students chose to leave our homes, streets and longtime friends. We parted from our families and our affections to invest everything in our passions and studies, hoping that they would lead us to achieve our goals. We wager on ourselves every day, in a city where there is no time to stop and take a breath. And then the nothingness. One night coming home from soccer practice, a knife stab takes everything away. The years of effort, good and bad experiences, great victories and bitter defeats are swept away. These are the feelings that have overrun much of the Columbia community in the aftermath of Davide’s unjust and terrible death.
The vigil in honor of Davide Giri
Columbia’s current president, Lee Bollinger, organized a vigil at five o’clock Friday afternoon to remember Davide Giri. More than a thousand people gathered in front of Butler Library on the Morningside campus. The Columbia community tightened around the grief, sadness and anger during a torchlight vigil that lasted about an hour in which Davide’s life was celebrated.
“This tragedy is a time to speak, a time to keep silent, a time to gather together.” With those words, candle flames began to light up Columbia lawns, followed by a moment of silence before Dean Bollinger started his speech.
“Davide Giri was our student, our colleague, our teacher, our friend and our fellow Columbian, (…) A brilliant doctoral student in an exciting field on his way to an incredible career,” president Bollinger recalled.
Giri was an ambitious, capable young man with great willpower and dedication. His resume shows it: after attending Politecnico di Torino, Tongji University in China, and the University of Illinois at Chicago, he had moved to New York, where he was studying as a Ph.D. candidate in Computer Science at Columbia University, one of the US Ivy League colleges. “We so deeply feel the pain and injustice of that life promise breached in an act of barbarous violence,” Bollinger said.
Testimonies from Davide’s friends and students
Among the people at the vigil were Davide’s college classmates, professors and the entire soccer team that he played for, the NY International FC. They were the last people to have seen him before the tragic attack by suspect Vincent Pinkney as Giri was walking home from practice.
Leon was in the front row, remembering Davide, “I used to play soccer with him every Friday back in the summer of 2019.” Nostalgic memories of those games resurface in Leon’s mind, who admits that “Davide was the best player on the field, always.”
A few feet away, a 26-year-old boy barely holds back tears. Philip Dinenis, 26 and a Ph.D. candidate in Applied Mathematics at Columbia University, was a friend of Davide and hadn’t seen him since before the pandemic. “It’s horrible, sickening and terrifying as well when you think about how it happened,” he whispered in a hushed voice.
Several students attending the celebration wanted to participate in his commemoration despite not knowing Davide personally. “I’m just really shocked by it, and we also talked about how it is scary because it was unprovoked,” commented Violet Cenedella, a 21-year-old Columbia College student.
The fatal assault to which Davide was a victim has changed some students’ views on the safety of New York City’s streets and how they will approach them in the future. “I’m going to be a lot more careful when I go home at night because honestly, I’ve taken a lot of things for granted in the past”, said Giovanni Bonfanti, a Ph.D. student in Economics at Columbia. “I live very close to where the incident happened, and it shook me a lot: I’ve walked by there a lot of times, even at night and alone. That made me think it could have been me in his place.”
The Morningside Heights area where the attack occurred is often the scene of robberies and violent attacks. “Every weekend for the past month there has been a shooting. This new fact makes me feel more skeptical about the nature of American society and makes me not want to stay and raise my children here,” Giovanni said.
The community’s support for the family
At the end of the vigil, the people who had gathered slowly left the area. In the middle of the campus were flowers, Davide’s photos, his scarf and the soccer team’s t-shirt in New York. The entire community is grieving his death – Davide Giri, one of the many students who had transferred from Italy to further his studies abroad. “It’s good that so many people, so many hearts, so many thoughts have come together today to remember Davide. It is painful to realize that he was unable to complete his path,” expressed Demetrio Iannone, 23 years old and a Ph.D. student in History at the City University of New York.
“Davide was us. He was young, and he was deprived of his life and taken from us by an act of unfathomable inhumanity,” said Dean Bollinger during his speech. And it’s true. Davide was all of us, and we could have been in his place. The feelings that have enveloped the student community are hard to explain. It was devastating to witness how a life so young and talented was killed, and it made us reflect on the importance of our existence. We felt the need to come together and remember Davide Giri, a brilliant person who was brutally murdered.
Numerous psychological and medical support services were made available to Columbia students throughout the day, and public safety increased on and around campus.
“On behalf of all of us at Columbia, I extend my deepest and most heartfelt condolences to each and every one of you. And from us, I send love and support to Davide’s parents and family,” said president Bollinger concluding his speech.