— Martin Herman, Chair, Department of Design
November 15, 2015

Words for Nohemi

To Nohemi’s parents and family, including her parents Beatriz and Jose Gonzalez, her brothers Renaldo and Paul, her cousins Jacqueline and Lilly, and her boyfriend Tim Mraz, we in Design extend our love and heartfelt sympathy and support. There simply are no words to express the profound grief and sense of loss that we feel. We are all heartbroken that such a beautiful light has been ripped away from us.

To our French friends here and abroad we offer our deepest condolences. To our French students here today, we from your Design Department family say to you that, ‘meme face a cette douleur et horreur incroyable, nous vous exprimons ce que nous esperons et croyons etre un amour plus profond et notre soutien durable‘ — even in the face of this incredible sorrow and horror, we express to you what we hope and believe to be a more profound love and lasting support.

It is unimaginable to be standing here and expressing the deep grief and loss we feel at Nohemi Gonzalez’s passing. We are all in mourning and will need each other through this. We in our family of Design are heartbroken and we need and appreciate the support of our campus community. We thank you for this outpouring and all your efforts, for reaching out. We thank our music colleagues for being here and offering your beautiful voices and giving us, as Leonard Bernstein once said, “the most profound answer to violence — music”. 

Please allow me to share with you some reflections on Nohemi.

Nohemi possessed a character that was truly rare. What I saw in her was a beautiful soul who practiced and applied goodness and compassion in her friendships and relationships with others. She exuded such energy and enthusiasm and infused the department with these same qualities by virtue of her presence in it. And in her design work she displayed imagination, passion, and an admirable work ethic. Nohemi was focused most recently on biomimetic design that applies lessons and observations from nature to promote sustainable practices and healthy living. In fact, as many of you know already, she and her team won 2nd prize in the 2016 International Biomimicry Global Design Challenge, an outstanding achievement in a highly competitive international pool. They designed a product called “PolliSnak”, a 100% biodegradable packaged snack pack with healthy dried fruits and nuts that came with dehydrated soil and seeds so that the user could cultivate a plant after finishing the snack. The packaging itself drew upon the bee’s honeycomb model as well as the blooming moonflower in the way it folded and unfolded. It’s cover read, “planting our community, one snack at a time.”

On a more personal note, I can remember some mornings when I would arrive in the Design Department, perhaps a little out of sorts, and whenever I saw Nohemi walking towards me down the hall, greeting me with her usual enthusiasm and bright smile, I would immediately feel whatever was burdening me lifted. She had this effect on people (unless you left the shop dirty and disorganized!). She emanated a light and a special energy that seemed to come out of every pore, from her eyes, from her unforgettable smile that communicated love, acceptance, happiness, sweetness, mixed-in with a little bit of zaniness.

Nohemi was a charismatic leader and a real tiger in the Design Department shops — helping students with the machinery and equipment while running a tight ship, insisting on safe practice and order. We entrusted her with the highest responsibilities as a student assistant in the department shops and she was beloved by all of our Design students. She touched practically all of them at one point or another because our students are required to take courses in the shops in order to learn the materials and tools of Design. Nohemi was instrumental in shepherding students along that journey and she was always generous with her time, her knowledge, and understanding, sometimes working off the clock and after hours for the benefit of her fellow students.

I also remember another more reflective side of Nohemi, which I caught a glimpse of. Not long ago many of the Industrial Design students took a field trip together to the Mattel headquarters in El Segundo. I tagged along that day. It was the first time I had a chance to simply converse with Nohemi in the car ride over, at Mattel, and then afterwards — all outside of our official duties in the department. All of us who went to Mattel shared, in equal measure, a sense of awe and inspiration in being there. And we shared conversation, laughter, banter, but I remember at a particular point in the car ride later that the conversation with Nohemi and others turned somewhat more philosophical in nature. I have a vivid memory of looking over at Nohemi as the conversation developed and this strong feeling came over me about her. This is something that is difficult for me to describe but it came through her eyes, her way of listening, and her expression. If I had to sum it up I’d say that what came from her in that moment was openness and wonder. What I mean by that is she absorbed her surroundings, and there was something almost child-like, not childish or naive, but child-like in the most profound sense of that word — meaning that she viewed the world with trust, openness, imagination, playfulness, and was a keen observer, which of course good designers must be. And there was something deeply reflective in her. I feel privileged to have experienced this and carry that memory and image of her in my heart. That quality of Nohemi’s character has stayed with me strongly and I know that the same can be said for her many friends and colleagues in Design.

The writer, Henry Miller, like Hemingway and others before him, went to Paris as a young man to find himself. So many American artists, writers, students, poets, thinkers, scholars have made this journey to Paris. Hemingway wrote that Paris was like a “moveable feast.” Miller wrote that the reason a young writer goes to Paris is to find their voice. That seemed like an ironic statement to me when I first read it, that one would find ones voice in a city on the other side of the Atlantic, away from ones home country. But it was a profound recognition that a young person at the beginning of their creative journey can better hear their own inner voice away from the norms and language of home precisely because they are tuning their receptors and filtering outside information very differently. Paris is not only a great city, but a place in our souls, which Hemingway and Miller understood profoundly. Add to this that Paris has always been and will continue to be the city of light, the place that more than any other city on the planet embraces values that nurture creativity, illumination, literacy, and intellectual pursuit, in other words the full range of the life of culture. And you know, Nohemi got this. She understood this and fully embraced it. She was so excited to be in Paris. She was on that same path that so many young people from our country had been on before that took them to Paris in an idealistic, exuberant and beautiful discovery. She charged into that adventure with openness, wonder, and purpose, on her way to defining and refining her voice as a designer.

Let me close by proclaiming this: may Nohemi’s voice, her bright spirit, her playfulness, her ideals, and hopes continue to inspire and illuminate the Department of Design, our university family, and all of those that she touched during her all too short time with us.