A frigid breeze blew over the steps of Hovde Hall on Wednesday evening, but Tyler Trent’s bright smile displayed on two screens warmed the hearts of those in attendance.
A projection on the front of the building read #TylerStrong.
Family, friends and some who had never met Trent attended a candlelight vigil for the late Boilermaker. Three rows of chairs sat in front of Hovde’s stairs, the first two reserved for his family. A large crowd of students extended from the stone wall around the engineering fountain all the way back to the fountain itself. Before the event began, the crowd waited patiently and silently during a somber piano song while football players passed out candles to arriving attendees.
Trent’s family filed in and Purdue University President Mitch Daniels approached the podium. The Purdue Varsity Glee Club, on the steps flanking the podium, sang, “Sing Your Way Home.”
Daniels spoke about the Golden Taps ceremony, an event the University holds to honor all of the students who have died during the year.
“We will remember Jessica Lin Marrs, Matt Klenosky, Erin Davis and Tyler Stephan,” he said. “Every student life is precious to us. With every loss, the poet’s bell tolls for us all.”
Daniels stressed the importance of this vigil in particular.
“But it’s right that we gather tonight to pay tribute in this special memorial to our most recently departed son and brother,” he said.
Daniels then introduced Savannah Bratcher, president of the Purdue University Dance Marathon, and Elijah Sindelar, co-captain of the football team, to share two aspects of Trent’s impact on his school and the world.
Bratcher was up first. She said Trent served with her on the Riley relations committee for PUDM when he was a freshman. They met days after Tyler camped out for his first Michigan football game.
“He came up and told me that he had camped out for this game and I looked at him like he was absolutely crazy.” Bratcher said. “I couldn’t remember being able to comprehend why he was doing such a thing. When he set his mind to something, he did it. He is one of the most determined individuals I have ever had the honor of meeting.”
She spoke about how Trent went to Iowa City, Iowa, with his dad for a game in 2017 and then drove through the night to stand during the entire 18-hour dance marathon — on his crutches — in support of the kids at Riley Children’s Hospital.
When Sindelar took the podium, he discussed Trent’s faith and love for football.
“I never heard him complain one time,” he said.
Sindelar recalled a time Trent had told him “Either way, I win” because he would either be in Heaven with Jesus or on this earth with his friends and family. Trent was more than a friend to the football team, according to Sindelar. He was the team captain.
“Let’s all strive to be a little more like Tyler,” he said.
Daniels commented further on Trent’s grit and how, faced with the worst of circumstances, he was a source of positivity.
“The death of any bright young life always hits us harder. We think of the lost potential, all that might have been,” Daniels said as he paused while tears filled his eyes. “And just how darned unfair it seems.”
He said that, when a death like Trent’s occurs, people are often left wondering the reason.
“But Tyler Trent answered the ‘why’ question for us, over and over. … Next time you confront a big challenge, Tyler will be there to help you meet it,” Daniels said. “If you don’t think he had something to do with 49-20, ask one of our players.”
Daniels lent the stage to Rob Schrumpf, lead pastor at Campus House, Trent’s place of worship at Purdue.
“He impacted not only this campus, but millions of people around the world,” Schrumpf said, before closing with a prayer.
The Glee Club ended with the Purdue Hymn and Daniels thanked everyone for coming.
Emily Collins and Morgan Pierce, both sophomores in the College of Liberal Arts, came to the memorial because they said have a close friend who lived near Trent in his hometown of Carmel, Indiana.
“It was really cool to see the impact that Tyler had not only on people who don’t know him, but especially on someone who’s been friends with him since they were kids,” Pierce said.
“We got to hear the funny stories about stupid things that happened and the impact of who he really was and his character. Getting to see that at a public school that’s so massive was super impactful.”