Queens College students, faculty and staff unveiled a permanent memorial dedicated to over 100 members of its community lost to the COVID-19 pandemic during a ceremony on Wednesday, April 19.
Funding for the memorial, which is a boulder with a commemorative plaque, was made possible by the college’s Office of Student Development and Leadership (OSDL) and Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr.
A corresponding COVID-19 memorial website will list victims’ names, along with links to grief support resources. A banner on display at the ceremony featured a QR code linking to the new webpage.
Queens College President Frank Wu gave remarks at the event held at Cooperman Plaza in front of the college’s Benjamin S. Rosenthal Library.
“COVID-19 changed our lives forever in so many ways. No one in this country has been immune to the devastating effects of Covid-19, one way or another,” Wu said. “This is especially true in the borough of Queens, which was the epicenter of the pandemic during its early stages. We all suffered, whether you were sickened by this awful disease, had to care for someone who was sick, struggled with social isolation, lost a job, or worst of all, lost a loved one. It’s likely we all knew someone personally who passed from COVID-19. Today, we unveil a memorial that honors the ones we lost.”
The idea for a permanent memorial to all those with ties to the college community was conceived by a Queens College graduate student and an alumna — sisters Jessica and Danielle Alejandro — as a tribute to their grandfather Joseph Szalkiewicz, who died from complications of COVID-19 in 2021.
Jessica is pursuing a master’s in childhood special education; Danielle, who completed a degree in elementary and early childhood education in December, plans to pursue a graduate TESOL degree at the college this year. The sisters are working with Addabbo to erect a permanent memorial to COVID-19 victims in New York City.
Like so many who were separated from their loved ones during the pandemic, the Alejandro’s bid goodbye to their grandfather — “the heart of their family” — over FaceTime shortly before his death.
In 2022, they helped coordinate a Yellow Heart Memorial at the college, an initiative sponsored by the eponymous nonprofit organization that aims to acknowledge those who died from COVID-19 not as statistics, but as beloved family members, friends, and colleagues. Under this designation, Queens College became the first college in New York State and second in the nation to recognize COVID-19 victims.