Clara Roberts, a recent Duncan College alumna (‘15), passed away April 6. The Pearland, Texas native, who is survived by her parents Suzy and Jay Roberts, was involved in a car accident while driving along Route 28 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“Her whole life was about changing the lives of everyone around her, raising everyone up and giving a powerful voice to those who were voiceless.”
Roberts graduated summa cum laude with degrees in psychology, sociology and public policy with a specialization in urban and social change. While at Rice, Roberts served as an advocacy coordinator for the Women's Resource Center, a student fellow for the Religion and Public Life Program, the president of the Rice Democrats and in various positions at Duncan College.
Among Roberts’s achievements at Rice was the 2015 Rice University Linda Williams Prize for Social Justice, awarded to one graduating senior. Elaine Ecklund, a professor who worked closely with Roberts in the Religion and Public Life Program, said in her nomination letter for the prize that Roberts was among the brightest Rice students she had ever known.
“There are no words to adequately express the extraordinary loss Clara’s death is to our world, a loss of change-making potential,” Ecklund said. “It is a loss that is profoundly and deeply felt in our local Rice community.”
According to Ecklund, Roberts was a tireless advocate for social change and feminism. She spearheaded a campus-wide campaign entitled “Who Needs Feminism?” in order to educate students about feminism and its effect on campus.
Since leaving Rice, Roberts worked as a political activist and crisis intervention specialist at The Open Door in Indiana, PA. According to friends, she was scheduled to attend New York University School of Law as a Root-Tilden-Kern public interest scholar in the fall.
“She [said] she needed to get a law degree and become bar certified because people would come to her with legal questions and she needed a law degree to answer them,” Pineiro said. “The reason she wanted to go to law school was to help people.”
Jake LaViola (Duncan ’15) said Roberts had an incomparable drive and potential to elicit great change in the world.
“She was going to be a change-maker,” LaViola said. “Her whole life was [about] changing the lives of everyone around her, raising everyone up and giving a powerful voice to those who were voiceless.”
Regardless of Roberts’ outstanding LSAT score, which elicited offers from the country’s top law schools, Duncan senior Ali Pineiro said Roberts' motivation to pursue law was rooted in altruism. Pineiro said one of Roberts’s personality traits was benevolence.
“Clara was the nicest person I have ever met,” Pineiro said. “That's not hyperbole. I cannot name a person who made others feel as welcomed and accepted as Clara did. She cared about others in such a genuine, real way. It never felt forced or like she was ‘being nice.’ It was just how she was.”
Pineiro, a Duncan senior, said Roberts’ fortitude and grace amid adversity set her apart from others.
“It's easy to think of Clara as some superhuman or compare her to fictional characters like Wonder Woman and Leslie Knope, but Clara, as incredible as she was, was still human,” Pineiro said. “She made mistakes. She got stressed out. She had bad days [but] part of what made Clara special was that she handled the bumps in the road so elegantly and she was always humble despite the magnitude of her success.”
Mary Anderson (Duncan ’15) said another key aspect of Roberts’ benevolent personality was her firm grounding in her identity.
“I really have never met anyone [else] who, from the time they set foot at Rice, didn't question who they were or their mission in life,” Anderson said. “[She was] someone who told you who she was from the moment you met her. It was refreshing and electric and she stayed true to herself throughout her whole time at Rice.”
According to Roberts’s mother, Suzy, Roberts had a myriad of interests to accompany her multitalented personality.
“She was becoming a devoted bread baker, had perfected Caesar Dressing, and never, ever, ever, ever, wanted to be famous,” Suzy Roberts said. “She read voraciously and her only regret in life was not having an eidetic memory. She was perfection.”
In an obituary written by friends KC Ho (Duncan ‘15), Cecilia Mejia (Duncan ’15), Seth Lauer (Duncan ’16) and Sarah Klein (Duncan ’15), the group wrote Roberts will be remembered by many for the way she loved those closest to her.
“To those who loved her, Clara's unwavering dedication to people's well-being, her tact, competence and wit were lights that warmed and guided us gracefully,” they wrote. “To those who she loved, Clara loved thoughtfully, tirelessly, and loyally.”
Services are scheduled for 10:30 a.m. on April 15 at Rice Memorial Chapel. Roberts’s mother requested via Facebook that donations to honor Roberts should be given to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
The online version of this article originally incorrectly stated that Roberts died in a car accident on Liberty Bridge. The accident occurred on Route 28.