Former Beaverton students leave lasting legacy

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - The spirit bench (seen here from the back) collected more flowers and trinkets honoring Ayan and Kiden in the days after it was first repainted.When a box truck slammed into his 18-year-old daughter as she drove to Forest Grove last week, Sam Dilla was on the other side of the world, visiting his native South Sudan.

It’s a country he fled decades ago because it was too dangerous — a country with few doctors and many deadly diseases, with widespread poverty and bad roads and wars and tribal feuds and one of the world’s cruelest dictators.

So when the phone rang at midnight and he learned his only daughter had died in a car crash back in America, it didn’t make sense.

America was supposed to be safe. Even his Sudanese friends were saying, “We thought the rough driving was here in Africa. How could this happen there?” he recalled Monday.

Dilla was one of about 225 people who attended a Monday night memorial service for his daughter, Kiden Dilla, and her friend, Ayan Osman, at Pacific University, where the two students were known for always being together. That held true in death, as they were traveling to Pacific together April 7, when Kiden inexplicably pulled in front of a truck on Highway 47 after stopping at Sourthwest Verboort NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Kiden Dilla's family felt lucky when she chose to study at Pacific, said her father, Sam Dilla, because it was so much closer than the other colleges she'd been considering. It meant she could 'still live and drive to Pacific.'

Tiara Herr, one of more than 20 people who spoke at the service, was particularly stricken by the students’ deaths because “in 2007 I lost one of my classmates in high school (Banks student Kaylee Tawzer) at the same exact intersection in the same exact way.”

Given that they had just met at Pacific’s orientation last summer, Ayan and Kiden were surprisingly inseparable. “You didn’t really see one without the other,” said Yashica Island, adviser of the school’s Black Student Union, which started up again this year with Kiden’s and Ayan’s help.

BSU member Nicole George said that whenever a task came up that needed to be done, “they were always the first to volunteer — after we all sat there for an uncomfortable two minutes.”

The two were both interested in public-health careers. Kiden (pronounced Kee-din) developed that interest when she attended a National Youth Leadership in Medicine program in Washington, D.C., according to her father.

“This summer we were going to try to raise money so she could do an internship in South Sudan,” where there is an average of only one doctor for every 10,000 people, Sam Dilla said.

Her aunt, Edith Duku, told the crowd that Kiden had been moved by the sight of “little kids” dying of diseases in South Sudan when she visited the country in 2005. “I knew she was going to go back.”

Buddy Becerra, a friend of Kiden’s from the International School in Beaverton, said they had both talked about studying communicable diseases and “if you want to remember Kiden the best way possible, do it in your thoughts, your actions and your heart.”

Ayan was easily recognized on campus for the hijab she wore.

Pete Erschen, an assistant director on Pacific’s Student Life staff, said he admired Ayan’s courage when she appeared on a discussion panel and talked in public about her decision to wear the hijab as an expression of her Muslim faith.

It’s a role that started early, according to one of her childhood friends, who told the crowd about meeting Ayan in first-grade and bluntly asking, “What is that on your head?” “Oh, it’s my hijab.” “What’s a hijab?” “Oh, I’m Muslim.” “What is that?”

Monday night, many who came forward at the Taylor-Meade Performing Arts Center in McCready Hall referred to the two friends’ radiant smiles, their confidence, beauty and passionate, positive natures. Several people spoke of being intrigued or drawn to Ayan and Kiden but now regretting that they’d never taken any steps to get to know the two.

Stacey Halpern, the teens’ general biology teacher (they apparently took all their classes together), compared the impact of their loss to the way ecological communities “can be changed by the addition or subtraction of a single species.”

Comments from the girls’ family members were a powerful reminder about how context-dependent personalities can be. Ayan’s mother, Farah Osman, seemed amused by the long line of Pacific University friends and faculty who had referred to how quiet her daughter was. “She was never quiet,” Farah said. “She would be falling on the floor laughing ... she was a prankster.”

Ayan also loved Beyonce, according to her older sister, Jamila Osman, who started her comments by saying that Ayan “would want me to say she was the better-dressed sister” and remembering her sister’s sharp sense of humor.

Jamila, who is a graduate student in Pacific’s college of education, said she knew Ayan and Kiden would have done amazing and wonderful things in the world, so “it’s our responsibility to do amazing and wonderful things in their honor.”

Dilla said his daughter’s childhood included gymnastics, soccer, Girl Scouts and a loving relationship with her three younger brothers, including one who is severely disabled.

Kiden’s family felt lucky when she chose to study at a nearby university, he said, because that meant she could continue living at home with them “and drive to Pacific.”

Following the service, mourners followed the family members out of the auditorium to a candlelight ceremony at Pacific’s “spirit bench,” which was recently repainted in honor of Ayan and Kiden.

To donate to memorial funds being set up by the Dilla and Osman families, call NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - Friends of Pacific University students Ayan Osman and Kiden Dilla repainted the spirit bench outside of Marsh Hall in honor of the two girls.

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