Griffin Madden, sufferer of the Oakland bonfire, has been described as gifted and “shining” by UC Berkeley professors
It’s the rare student who gets the attention of its instructors, especially on a large and competitive campus like UC Berkeley.
23-year-old Griffin Madden, who graduated in 2015 with a double major in philosophy and Slavic languages and literatures, delighted the faculty.
“He was probably the most memorable student I had in my apprenticeship years,” said Luba Golburt, associate professor at the Institute of Slavic Languages and Literatures, remembering the young man, among 36 people who died on Friday night’s terrible bonfire in Oakland.
Golburt had Madden in two classes: 19th century Russian literature and a seminar on the Ukrainian writer Nikolai Gogol.
“He had a light on him, a search for knowledge and an enthusiasm for learning,” said Golburt, adding that her colleagues shared the feeling. “We all remember him fondly.”
Irina Kogel, who teaches Russian, had Madden class twice at UC Berkeley.
“He was the kind of student you want,” said Kogel, who is now at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. “He was incredibly curious and worked harder than necessary. He always had a question about something. “
Madden’s passion extended to music of all kinds. He directed Cal Performances, where jazz, choral, classical and world music take the stage for five years, and had recently gained a full-time position as an Audience Services Associate.
“Our community is heartbroken over this news,” said Matías Tarnopolsky, executive director and artistic director of Cal Performances, in a message to colleagues. He called Madden a “loved one” and said a memorial service was planned for the spring.
It was Madden’s love of music that brought him to the Golden Donna 100% Silk Show at the Ghost Ship Warehouse Friday night.
When Madden of Berkeley could not be found after the fire, friends posted Facebook posts with his smiling face and disheveled hair, sharing their fears and hopes. “We could all use a little miracle now,” wrote Kenra Verga.
His friend Saya Tomioka remembered watching The Book of Mormon with Madden on Broadway in New York last year.
“I remember tears that made my eyes swell because the city was so beautiful and in the midst of all the lights that I had to look at the brightest light of all, my dear,” she wrote. “I cried and we kissed. A coincidental photographer captured this exact moment, this exact kiss. … I never got his name and he just showed us the only beautiful snapshot he could take. “
Now Tomioka wrote: “Our community is in mourning” and she hoped that somehow the photographer could find a way to send her the “cherished memory that I will always keep in my heart”.
While preparing for graduation from UC Berkeley last year, Madden received a scholarship to spend the summer studying Russian at Middlebury College, Vermont.
Kathryn DeWaele, a graduate student in Russian literature at UC Berkeley, received the same scholarship and said she was delighted to discover Madden in her program across the country. She had been a teaching assistant in a class he had taken on for the author Vladimir Nabokov.
Madden “wrote really, very well and was a very productive member of the class,” DeWaele said. “He was a really cute guy.
“This is heartbreaking.”
Nanette Asimov is a contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @NanetteAsimov