The Johns Hopkins Gazette: December 7, 1998
Dec. 7, 1998
VOL. 28, NO. 14


Memorial Service Pays Tribute to Three Students Killed in Thanksgiving Crash

By Steve Libowitz and Greg Rienzi
Special to The Gazette
Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

Everyone who knew him called him Swami, and he was the one hardest to miss among a crowd of students playing cricket on warm afternoons on the Upper Quad on the Homewood campus. At 6 feet 5 inches tall, Swaminathan Jayaraman not only towered over most of the other players but his intensity, good nature and unshakable sense of fairness would resonate throughout the game. And the 26-year-old's passion and ability easily crossed from the playing field to the materials science labs in the Whiting School of Engineering.

Swaminathan was one of three students remembered at a memorial service held Dec. 2 in the Glass Pavilion on the Homewood campus. He and his friends Bhavesh Gandhi and Jithesh Parameswaran were killed Nov. 28 in a predawn, single-car accident as they and two other Hopkins graduate students were returning to school from visiting a friend in North Carolina over Thanksgiving. Veera Venkataramani and Abhishek Agarwal survived the crash; they were taken to Maryland Shock Trauma and are expected to recover from their injuries.

All five students, whose families live in India, were in the graduate program in the School of Engineering.

About 400 friends, fellow students, faculty and administrators crowded into the Glass Pavilion to remember the three students and share the sadness of their loss.

"The memorial service gave to the greater Hopkins community a sense of the energy, vitality, intellectual fervor and the contributions that these three young men made," said President William R. Brody following the service. "It highlights even more the sense of loss we all feel through their untimely and tragic death." In notes made for a program distributed at the service, friends remembered Swami for the way in which he lived his life according to his strongly held religious beliefs. "His honesty and integrity won him the love and respect of all who knew him."

The 21-year-old Bhavesh was remembered for his ardent admiration of Hindi music and his great fascination with fundamental theory, physics and mathematics. He had arrived at Hopkins just this past September, having graduated in July from Bombay's Indian Institute of Technology. A student in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, he was recalled by friends as friendly, warm-hearted and lovable, with an affinity for the Internet, which often served as his first point of contact with people.

Jithesh was remembered for his academic achievement; the 24-year-old was also regarded as an accomplished sportsman, playing cricket for his class team in college, doing tae kwon do at Hopkins. He was competitive off the field, too, exceling in quiz competitions all the way to the national level.

The quiet seriousness of the memorial service was pierced from time to time by soft laughter as close friends shared anecdotes.

Engineering dean Ilene Busch-Vishniac said, "Of all the lessons students will learn in class, none are as tough as the lesson of coping with loss."

She also mentioned her admiration for the friends of the three men, relating how they so quickly had gotten in touch with the tightly knit Indian graduate student community, how they had stood vigil at Shock Trauma in the hours immediately after the accident, how they continue to visit Veera and Abhishek as they recover and how they reached out to and worked with administrators in a mutual attempt to contact the victims' families and to make funeral arrangements in accordance with the men's religion and their families' wishes.

For Swami, Bhavesh and Jithesh, arriving from outstanding universities in India with impressive academic credentials and the expectation of leaving with a preeminent degree and a limitless professional horizon, Hopkins was an opportunity for international study. It was their dedication to their studies that provided a cautionary tale for John Goutsias, Bhavesh's adviser.

In his eulogy, Goutsias, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, explained that the reason these young men were traveling through the night was their desire to return to their studies.

"A message should go out to the entire Hopkins community that while dedication to work and studies are important they aren't worth putting one's life at risk."

The words that concluded the program notes about Swami, friends said, really applied to all three men:

"Words cannot express the grief we feel for the tragic loss of [those] who touched the hearts of so many."

The bodies of the three victims were flown home to India for burial.

Friends have established two funds: The Bhavesh Gandhi, Swaminathan Jayaraman and Jithesh Parameswaran Memorial Fund and The Family Assistance Fund. Contributions may be sent to The Johns Hopkins University, c/o The Homewood Student Affairs Business Office, 4 Shriver Hall, 3400 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.

Program notes from the memorial service, a message from Dean Busch-Vishniac and more information about the students can be found at a special site on the Web. The URL is