When Students Experience Loss

The Dorrington Family
Jessica (Beran) Dorrington ('03) and her family.

January 03, 2024
University Advancement

The life stage of a college student is challenging enough—imagine how much heavier it becomes for those who lose a parent during the experience. That’s exactly what happened to Jessica (Beran) Dorrington (’03) in 2001 when her father unexpectedly passed away.


“I was a sophomore with plans to go to Gonzaga in Florence,” she said, “and in an instant, everything changed.”


Jessica wasn’t alone; two of her classmates’ fathers (Dabbs and Hodgkinson) also passed away in the same year. The three of them were instantly on Sue Weitz’ radar—as Vice President of Student Affairs, she animated the University’s commitment to the principle of cura personalis for students.


“When a student lost a family member I would always reach out and give support,” recalled Sue Weitz. “Sometimes the support would be listening to their memories of the parent, connecting them with a Priest (if they were Catholic) or another spiritual advisor or counselor, notifying their faculty members, making sure there was friend support, arranging flights or other transportation to home, and the like.”


“Sue was so incredibly supportive of our three families during that time,” Jessica said. “Our experience would not have been the same without her proactive response, jumping in to meet needs we didn’t foresee having.”


Jessica and the other two students experiencing the loss of a parent also received financial aid support that helped keep them on track to continue their Gonzaga journeys without added hardships. She had been urged by a classmate to go visit Thayne McCulloh, who was working in financial aid at the time.


“He connected me with endowed funds that helped,” Jessica said, “and that was when I committed to someday making things easier for students going through the same thing.”


It was the experience at Gonzaga with Sue and Thayne that returned to Jessica’s mind when her mother Gail passed away earlier this year. Together with her husband Greg and her siblings Sarah and Jim, it was decided that they would do something truly meaningful with their inheritance, and endowed a fund meant to help others who lose a parent during their time at Gonzaga. The four of them established this endowment in their mother’s memory. For Jessica, Sue Weitz’ impact remained top of mind.


“Thoughts of Sue’s kindness and generosity certainly came to my mind as I held onto the idea of paying it forward,” she explained.


The support Jessica and her classmates received made a difference in helping them complete their degrees, but for Jessica, it went one step further. She was able to follow her dreams and study abroad at Gonzaga in Florence, where she met her future husband, Greg ('03). It just goes to show that you never truly know whose life you’ll change through your generosity.


The Beran-Dabbs-Hodgkinson Memorial Endowment that Jessica and her siblings established is the true definition of “Zags helping Zags,” as it is intended to help students continue or complete their education when the death of a parent or guardian happens during their time at Gonzaga.


The University is grateful for Jessica, Sarah, Jim, Sue, and all who embody the culture of care at the heart of this community. You are the magic ingredient in the “secret sauce” that makes Gonzaga special.


Support students in times of loss by giving to the Beran-Dabbs-Hodgkinson Memorial Endowment