College community dedicates bench, holds memorial commemoration for Savannah Williams

Friends, teammates and family of Savannah Williams gathered in front of Onondaga Hall on Saturday Nov. 11 to pay their respects and see the bench inscribed with her name (pictured top). Savannah Williams passed away after the fall of 2016, as she was travelling home for winter break. (Ellayna Fredericks/assoc. photo editor)

Geneseo celebrated the life of Savannah Williams ’16 and the contributions she made to the college at a ceremony outside of Onondaga Hall, where a bench was donated in her honor. 

Savannah Williams died at the end of the fall 2016 semester in a car accident as she was leaving campus. 

The ceremony was held on Saturday Nov. 11, and was organized by past Onondaga Hall Council members and resident assistants, as well as the current Area Coordinator for Onondaga and Niagara Erica Doherty and Student Life. 

Onondaga Hall’s former RAs and Hall Council raised money to purchase the bench to honor Savannah Williams with a series of fundraising events so the bench can be used by individuals on-campus, according to former Onondaga Hall Council member sophomore Emily Matura. Matura also hopes future residents of Onondaga Hall will remember Savannah Williams with the installation of the bench. 

The bench is located outside of the front entrance of the hall ,and includes a plaque that says, “In loving memory of Savannah Williams: 1998-2016.”

During the commemoration, attendees held candles while listening to speeches from several people who knew Savannah Williams, including her RA junior Rachel Choset, roommate sophomore Catherine Appleton, women’s basketball teammate sophomore Sara Ciotti and mother Shari Williams. 

Choset gave the first speech and commented on Savannah Williams’ work ethic and friendly nature, adding that she hopes the campus will continue to use this bench to remember her.

“For years to come, I hope students can relax on this bench, enjoy watching the sunsets and think about the amazing person who Savannah was, and smile just like Savannah,” Choset said.

Additionally, Appleton highlighted how Savannah Williams made her feel immediately comfortable no matter the situation. 

“Sav was my best friend here and she was my cheerleader and she was my cohort in a lot of mischief that we got into together,” Appleton said. “I wasn’t afraid to be myself around her, which was so important. Living with her, I never felt like I had to put on a mask and try to be something I wasn’t.” 

Following Appleton, Ciotti provided some consoling words to attendees, observing that both Savannah Williams and Kelsey Annese ‘16—who died in January 2016—will always be looking over the Geneseo women’s basketball team.

“Every practice, every time we step into the gym, I can feel her,” Ciotti said. “Of course, we still wish she was there in person, but I think we all find comfort in knowing that we have two very important angels constantly watching over us.” 

Shari Williams closed the speeches by commending the Geneseo community for its fundraising efforts in obtaining the bench, stating she is pleased Savannah Williams’ memory will live on at the college. 

At the end of the commemoration, attendees placed the candles by the bench and circled around it in a moment of silence for Savannah Williams. Attendees also took time after the ceremony to share fond memories with each other of Savannah Williams.  

Former Onondaga Hall Council member sophomore Tessa Adamec said she felt it was heartwarming that so many people attended the ceremony.

“I was amazed with the turnout. There were so many people there who came to support Savannah,” Adamec said. “Her family was so nice and they were so grateful for what we’ve done.  I was grateful that so many people, even so long after what happened, were able to come out and still show their support.” 

Doherty took initiative in organizing the event after former Onondaga Hall RAs and Hall Council members presented the idea to her. These individuals wanted to hold such a commemoration, as they were unable to organize one last year, according to Doherty. 

“It just felt natural to have the event,” Doherty said. “I wouldn’t want to say no, especially when the students were so excited about recognizing the fundraising efforts. It only felt right.” 

The Geneseo women’s basketball team will be writing the numbers 31 and 32 on the back of their shoes for game day to honor both Savannah Williams and Annese, who wore those numbers when they were on the team, respectively. 

Choset plans to continue holding Savannah Williams in her heart by frequenting the bench and attending women’s basketball games.

“I’m definitely going to go to Onondaga and stop by the bench from time to time and any basketball game I can go to I will because I know she has a flag right next to Kelsey with her name and number,” Choset said. “I’ll definitely remember her presence on the court and through periodically seeing the bench and making sure it looks good.”