A few weeks after arriving at GW last fall, Benjamin Asma and his friends walked past the dozens of tables at the student organization fair in University Yard.
But when his friends tried to move on from a booth, they had to stop and wait because Asma was signing up for another group’s email list.
“It was hilarious, but that was Ben,” said freshman Emily Deanne, one of Asma’s close friends and neighbors in West Hall. “He had such a wild spirit and a kind heart.”
The 19-year-old freshman’s death last week, the result of an apparent suicide attempt, stunned his self-proclaimed “West Hall family” and sent shockwaves across a campus still grappling with the death of senior Lynley Redwood on Tuesday. Both were residents of West Hall.
Asma was active in five organizations in his first year at GW: He played the trombone in GW Band, was a star breast-stroker for the club swimming team and a pledge in the Beta Theta Pi fraternity. He was also a member of the University Honors Program and told his family he wanted to be a doctor like his uncle and grandfather.
Still, he made plenty of time for his friends, playing Mario Kart and watching comedies with his roommates and hallmates nearly every day. On Sundays, the second floor cooked dinner together, and after everyone else went back to their rooms, Asma would stay to wash the dishes. Other nights he would stay up late having deep conversations with classmates who needed to open up to someone.
Asma, a biomedical engineering student, also made new friends quickly. One of his neighbors in West Hall said he could walk into a party and leave with 10 new friends, drawing people in with his infectious smile and easygoing personality.
Freshman Jessica Ryabin, who lived in Somers Hall on the Mount Vernon Campus, said he always pushed her to work harder during class, at the gym and in the pool during their club swimming practices.
She once called him asking for help studying for a mathematics exam, and he appeared by her side in the library within minutes. She had worked on one problem for an hour, and he showed her how to solve it in five minutes.
But Ryabin said that just before spring break, Asma told her he wasn’t happy on campus. He had said his classes did not challenge him and that he wanted to transfer.
“I was shocked. Everything was going great for him,” Ryabin said. “And it wasn’t that it was hard. It was the opposite. It was too easy for him.”
Freshman Walker Smith had also met Asma through the club swimming team, and the pair quickly became close friends who talked every day and once walked around campus talking until 5 a.m.
He had last spoken to Asma on Sunday, two days before his suicide attempt. Asma told him that he hoped Smith would find happiness in his life, words that resonated with Smith only after learning of his friend’s death.
“I can honestly say that Ben changed my life. He was the first person I ever felt truly like myself around, like I could do anything or say anything and he wouldn’t judge, he wouldn’t care, he would just listen,” Smith said.
His mother, Leann Asma, said while her son was outgoing, he was also very private.
“We would talk to Benj, and everything was great. He was busy, he was engaged, so we assumed everything was fine. And it wasn’t,” she said. “And we won’t know probably ever what was really going on with Benjamin, and that’s going to be hard, but hopefully we’ll come to some peace with that.”
His mother also said she would remember him for “his big smile and his there’s-nothing-I-can’t-do attitude.”
Asma, who lived in Lake Bluff, Ill., is survived by his parents and two siblings.
His father, Benjamin Asma, Sr., said after the memorial service Thursday that his son’s legacy will be “the breadth of friendships that he has developed. It cuts across the entire spectrum of persons.”
This post was updated April 7 to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly spelled the name of Jessica Ryabin. We regret this error.