“Alohilani,” the Hawaiian word for “brightness from heaven,” was an apt middle name for Samantha Wopat. That brightness was evident from those who shared details from her life in front of several hundred people who gathered Thursday night to remember her.
The Santa Barbara community was left reeling from the news, and Thursday’s gathering gave supporters of the family a chance to grieve together as well as reflect on Wopat’s life.
That reflection was of a girl with shining waist-length blonde hair who loved avocados, being outdoors, playing pranks on friends as well as writing poetry and taking photographs. There were many dimensions to the former Dos Pueblos High volleyball star, as many of the speakers recounted.
Teachers from Wopat’s elementary years at Kellogg School to high school at Dos Pueblos to her first year at Stanford all took the stage to share.
A sweet spirit of support for the family resonated with each who spoke, particularly Jim Pearson, who first met Wopat as a second-grader at Kellogg. In addition to her parents, Ron and Kathy, Wopat is survived not only by her twin but younger brothers Jackson and Eli.
“We’re here to remind them that though they are strong, they don’t have to be strong all the time,” Pearson said. “They don’t stand alone.”
Each speaker remembered a gentle girl who loved to laugh, and who had incredible gifts as an athlete as well as a creative spirit.
Dos Pueblos teacher Bill Woodard recalled Wopat on her first day of high school “as a string-bean freshman,” and hugging her the last day of her senior year as she was prepping to attend Stanford. He told of a school project she had made that left the class doubled over, including Wopat, who had tears streaming down her face from laughter.
“It was the purest expression of happiness I’ve ever seen in the classroom,” Woodard said.
Wopat’s various volleyball coaches also spoke about her presence on — and off — the court.
“Sam bounced when she walked,” her high school coach, Dwayne Hauschild, recalled. “She was so happy and full of joy.”
Wopat’s twin sister, Carly, shared about growing up with a true kindred spirit.
“We were partners in crime, and partners in every other aspect of life,” she told the audience, the sense of loss evident as she spoke. “Everything I once knew is gone. In spending my last moments with Sam, I held her hand and thought of all the times in the past that we had held hands in the same way.
“I told her I would never let her go, and I never will. ... I carry her heart with me.”
Younger brother Jackson also spoke, recalling sweet memories of his older sister.
Wopat’s father recalled the day the twins were born. They were eight weeks early, and little Sam weighed only three pounds.
“But she was strong and feisty,” he said.
As she grew, she loved being outdoors, hiking and fishing, and Ron Wopat recalled their outings — just the two of them.
”For me, it was special dad time,” he said.
He also recalled a recent trip taken to Yosemite National Park with his son, and when his son thanked him for the trip, he thought of Sam.
“It reminded me of all the perfect dad time I was lucky enough to have shared fishing and hiking with Sam,” he said, through tears.
Kathy Wopat also spoke, and began by thanking the group for their support.
“Our strength comes from all of you,” she said. “This is a very difficult journey, and our family is determined to become better people through this.
“My mother’s heart is broken. I have sweet memories, but nothing can seem to fix it and not everything in life can be fixed.”
She said she wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Sam, and that she had just expressed excitement about switching majors to Earth systems, with a minor in poetry.
“She really was a mix of so many talents,” Kathy Wopat said.
That Hawaiian name, “Alohilani,” was given to Sam by her mother, who grew up in Hawaii.
“My prayer is for peace, and it’s coming one drop at a time,” she said.
She also had a prayer for Sam: “My prayer for you is also peace, be at peace in the light.”
“She went to her guiding light,” her mother said, “and I’m so proud of her.”