Winona State University's Newspaper since 1919

The Winonan

Winona State University's Newspaper since 1919

The Winonan

Winona State University's Newspaper since 1919

The Winonan


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Winona State Mourns the Loss of Zachary Nguyen

Karleigh Johnson
“When I see this weather, I can appreciate the sunshine coming through and think of him.” The gazebo stands at Windom Park, where Zachary and his friends would meet to hang out.

The Winona State University community mourns the loss of second-year student Zachary Nguyen, who recently passed away at just 20 years old. Vice President Denice McDowell sent an email on Sunday, February 25th to notify students, faculty, and staff of his passing.

From Bloomington, Minnesota, Zachary had been seeking degrees in both Psychology and Computer Science here at Winona State. His passing reminds us to hold close to our loved ones, family, friends, and peers, and to uphold a thoughtful and caring community on and off campus.

Second-year student Elly Herrick describes their friendship with Zachary and illustrates his character and his kindness. Elly met him during their first year at Winona State, and they remained friends after that.

“Something that stuck out to me that he said the first time we spent time together was that I was like sunshine. At first, I was confused because I have never heard someone describe someone else like that and I knew right away that Zach and I would be good friends,” Herrick said.

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Herrick describes that Zachary’s presence and friendship helped them get through the initial shift of starting college life. Herrick mentions that they were always there for each other, and hanging out was a break from stress as a student.

“Zach was always a constant in my life that allowed me to become a more carefree and happier person,” Herrick says. “Zach was one of my first male friendships in college where I didn’t feel exploited or that he wanted anything from me, and I always appreciated our friendship.”

Dr. Elizabeth Russell had Zachary Nguyen as one of her psychology students here at Winona State. She describes that Nguyen is very clearly missed, and that he had a refreshing presence to those around him at Winona State.

“Though I haven’t known him for long, it’s obvious to me that he brought a lot of joy to a lot of people,” Russel said. “Whenever I saw him around the department or in moments between classes, he was always laughing or making other people laugh- something about him seemed to make others comfortable right away.”

Even for those who did not personally know Zachary, many understand the heartbreak and sadness that goes along with grieving the loss of a loved one. Eunie Alsaker is one of the counselors at Winona State University, with a particular effort in grief counseling.

Alsaker describes that the percentage of students who are only in their first year of college but experience the loss of a loved one is quite high. She goes on to explain that for college students, it can be even more confusing to understand how to navigate grief and loss during this phase of life.

“I think that another thing that makes grief on college campuses hard is you’re away from your family, and that support of your home community,” Alsaker said.

She explains that what makes a student’s passing even more upsetting is its philosophy. She mentions that young people are not supposed to pass away, it does not make sense. This creates a ripple effect of grief across campus and is a demanding thing to wrap one’s mind around.

“I think if you solely focus on loss, it is pretty hard to function. But if you only focus on the rest of your life, then there is all this heavy stuff that is being avoided. Sort of finding that balance and being able to do both is really important,” Alsaker said.

Alsaker goes on to mention that when we experience a loss, the easy stuff can become hard. She explains that the best way we can help those who are grieving is by listening, and making it known that they have support when they need it.

Dr. Russell mentions her perspective as a professor at Winona State.

“A loss of a student is heartbreaking, and it’s important for students to be aware that professors think about you more than you know and deeply care about your well-being,” Dr. Russell said. “There’s no right way to grieve, but I think it’s necessary to both let yourself feel the sadness while also holding onto the good memories.”

Elly Herrick explains that a loss like this will not ever get better, but rather it is something one learns to live with over time.

“Every day I learn more and more to appreciate the life and campus that Zach has touched and been in. I remember and appreciate all the life that Zach has brought out in me and others in his life,” Herrick said. “When I see this weather, I can appreciate the sunshine coming through and think of him.”

Counseling services are always available for students on campus, to approach concerns big and small. Eunie Alsaker has seen students once or twice to tackle specific issues, or she may work with some students for all four years. Counseling and Wellness Services are on the second floor of the IWC, and grief counseling is offered to all students.

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About the Contributor
Karleigh Johnson
Karleigh Johnson, News Reporter
Karleigh Johnson (she/her/hers) is a reporter for the Winonan as of fall 2023. She started off at North Hennepin Community College and transferred to Winona State University in her third year to Major in Creative Digital Media and Minor in both Film Studies and Spanish. 
After attending Nuevas Fronteras Spanish Immersion, Karleigh continues to have a passion for the Spanish language and culture. She studied in Spain through Winona State University in May of 2023. Karleigh enjoys travel, art, writing, photography and videomaking. 
Karleigh participated in the Disney College Program in Spring 2022 and became a Disney Trainer. After graduation, she hopes to return to Disney by working for one of the many media and entertainment companies Disney owns. Her dream is to write her own television show inspired by comedic styles of The Office, Parks and Recreation, Arrested Development, and many others.

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