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‘Quiet but quietly strong,’ Rice remembers Beth Buchanan

Photo courtesy Whitney Jin

By Hajera Naveed     4/12/23 12:19am

Beth Buchanan, a 2021 Hanszen College graduate, passed away on Feb. 13 at the age of 23, after her car was hit by a drunk driver near Atlanta, Georgia. 

Originally from Fresno, California, Buchanan pursued a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology at Rice, graduating with honors. She was deeply invested in research as an undergraduate, specifically relating to industrial and organizational psychology. She received several university awards including the William Howell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research and Scholarship. 

Aside from research, Buchanan was involved in the a cappella group Low Keys, the service committee at Hanszen College and Orientation Week as an advisor, among other things. She had a strong passion for community service and helping underprivileged people, which began in her childhood and continued at Rice through her thesis work and extracurricular activities. 

Mentors and friends alike described her as incredibly intelligent, but noted her impact on them went far beyond her smarts. Eden King, a professor of psychology and one of Buchanan’s research mentors, met Buchanan during her O-Week and shortly after became her research mentor.

“It sounds so cliché, but she’s just a light. Just this beautiful human. So thoughtful. Quiet but quietly strong. Kind, generous. She just made every place that she entered brighter,” King said.

King emphasized Buchanan’s many accomplishments at Rice, from winning psychology awards to creating an excellent senior thesis, all culminating in her attending one of the best graduate programs in the country for her field of study.

“I think she was very humble, so I don’t think she would find pride in the sort of accomplishments that we think about,” King said. “Those things are impressive about her, but I think she probably valued the people in her life and the relationships she formed as the best part.”

Her close friends at Rice all echoed King’s sentiment, believing that Buchanan valued and cherished the relationships she created with friends here. Buchanan developed strong bonds with her freshman suitemates at Hanszen, as the four would Uber around town their freshman year, spending both mealtimes and downtime together. 

Whitney Jin (Hanszen ’21) was a suitemate of Buchanan’s freshman year, and the two quickly became good friends for the next four years. 

“I could tell immediately that she was such a radiant person. We met on the first day of school,” Jin said. “The rest is history.” 

Aakanksha Khadye (Hanszen ’21), another suitemate of Buchanan’s, said she can’t imagine her life at Rice without her. 

“She is such an ingrained part of my experience at Rice,” Khadye said. “Even now, when it is hard [to cope] with the grief of her loss, I can only really focus on what a positive impact she made on my life.”

Jin said Buchanan was very relationship-oriented, prioritizing her loved ones and putting them first. 

“I feel like it’s hard to meet someone who prioritizes family that much … She was always talking and catching up with her mom, her sister. And even her professors would buy her groceries because they treated her like another daughter,” Jin said. “That is just a testament to how she goes full in [with] people that are close to her, and I think that is why her loss is so devastating, because she is such a prominent, important person in people’s lives.”

Many friends echoed this trait of Buchanan’s, emphasizing her unwavering support and selflessness towards her friends at Rice. Bhavana Kunisetty (Hanszen ’21), Buchanan’s O-Week sister and close friend, recalled a time when Buchanan helped Kunisetty move into her new apartment.

“She [had] this tiny little RAV4 van and she made like 7 trips back and forth … [and] totally moved me into my apartment,” Kunisetty said. “I felt so bad because I was like, Beth, you have to let me pay for something’ … and then she was like, ‘You can just get me a burrito.’ So we went to Freebirds and … it was buy one get one free. And she [said], ‘Yeah, I knew it was buy one get one free, I didn’t want you to have to pay.’”

Kunisetty also said she will remember Buchanan for her patience, universal charm and commitment to everything she cared about. 

“She’s just really special. There is no one I’ve met that is incredibly committed, compassionate and clear-minded,” Kunisetty said. “She always knew from the start who she liked and what was important to her … It’s just really admirable.”

Friends also highlighted Buchanan’s humor, recalling her one-liners that were both witty and hilarious. And even more, she was described by many as someone who lived in the moment and was present for those around her.

“She was so easy to talk to and just made you feel heard and [feel like] what you had to say mattered,” Jin said.

Mikki Hebl, chair of the psychology department, was another one of Buchanan’s research mentors. When reflecting upon who Buchanan was, Hebl used two words: lovely and golden.

“I would use lovely, because everything about her is lovely,” Hebl said. “She was one of those people who I would not believe has an enemy in the world. She was a kind person. She was a good person. And golden because if you think about what gold is, it's the highest right? And that’s what she was.”

Hebl said Buchanan taught her how to live an intentional life, one filled with positivity and grace. She believed Buchanan had much to contribute to the field of industrial and organizational psychology and said she is missed dearly by all the psychology faculty members that knew her. 

“She already got how to be an academic at such a young age. You looked at her and you knew she had made it,” Hebl said. “What I will say to you is if our field consisted of a bunch of future Beth Buchanans, you know the field would be going in a good direction.”

Lebena Varghese, Hanszen College RA, said Buchanan was more than a friendly student to her and her husband Nick Bourgeois. She recalls Buchanan attending most of their study breaks, or otherwise letting Lebena know when she couldn’t make it. 

“Buchanan was an amazing, kind hearted, compassionate, cheerful and dedicated friend,” Lebena said. “Her presence was always felt by everyone around her. Nick and I consider ourselves very lucky to have known her.”

Tani Barlow, a professor in the history department, taught Buchanan in her Modern China class over Zoom during the pandemic. She said that Buchanan was deeply invested in learning history and had a particular sensitivity to human suffering. 

“We were on Zoom that semester and the course she took involved a century of brutal warfare and incalculable loss of life,” Barlow said. “Although we were living through death and unsettled times, she could empathize with people in the past.”

Buchanan touched the lives of so many, according to her friends and mentors. To them, she was caring, intentional, a do-gooder and so much more. 

“Honestly even now, the only way I can describe her is that Beth was so full of life,” Khadye said. “She was someone who did good things because of who she was. She was not motivated by extrinsic factors. She genuinely cared about people and the world and she wanted to do her part in making it a better place.”

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