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Hundreds remember the life of USC student Victor McElhaney

Family, friends and fellow musicians remember the talented percussionist who touched so many lives during his time as a Trojan.

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More than 700 people gathered in a ballroom on USC’s University Park Campus Tuesday night to celebrate the life of Victor McElhaney, a 21-year-old student who was killed March 10.

The Ronald Tutor Campus Center ballroom was packed to the brim. Those who couldn’t find seats at tables stood in the back. Dozens lined up to sign a USC flag, which would be given to his family. It was a testament to McElhaney, who transferred in the fall of 2017, to the lives he touched during his time at the university.

Dozens spoke about the Oakland native, who usually went by “Vic,” from his friends at the Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs, his home away from home, to his academic adviser.

I know Vic lives in each one of our hearts and in our souls.

Viet Bui

“I’m Vic’s academic adviser. Vic is my student. And I like to say ‘is’ because to say past tense implies that person is truly gone and Vic is not truly gone,” said Viet Bui, who works in student affairs at the USC Thornton School of Music. “I know Vic lives in each one of our hearts and in our souls.”

McElhaney was shot during an alleged robbery a few miles off campus. The incident is still under investigation.

Faculty, friends join in remembering Victor McElhaney

Faculty from USC Thornton, where McElhaney was studying jazz, honored the talented percussionist with three performances. His former jazz voice teacher Kathleen Grace performing one of his favorite songs, “This is Always” by Betty Carter, the drummer noticeably absent. Fellow musicians played an arrangement he had put together the week before he died, with USC Thornton lecturer Aaron Serfaty taking his seat at the drums. The song: Michael Jackson’s “Never Can Say Goodbye,” its lyrics eerily prescient.

As a kid, McElhaney’s love of the drums meant denting his parents’ pots and spoons, said his father, Clarence McElhaney. He remembered his son bringing his drums to summer camp one year, walking up to see a line of 30 kids next to him, hoping Vic would teach them how to play. As he grew up, African drums were a connection to his roots. His dad said his last conversation with his son was catching him as he left a park where he’d spent the day playing. He told him he played “until the ancestors talked to me.”

McElhaney was serious about the things that mattered to him, pushing for inclusivity and against racial injustice, hypermasculinity and homophobia, his friends said. He was the co-president of Brothers Breaking BREAD — barriers, regrets, ego, animosity and doubt — which aimed to bring black men together in community. They’ve had guests such as Kobe Bryant and Love & Basketball Director Gina Prince-Bythewood.

He was warm —  someone who would wrap you with an embrace if he saw you on campus, said his friend and BBB co-president David “LAMI” Friebe. He regularly told friends he loved them.

Friebe recalled a BBB event McElhaney planned, a screening of the Oscar-winning movie Moonlight for Black History Month. He did everything from getting food to setting it up and breaking he down.

“Just to show you how loving he was as a person, he paid out of pocket to get every single person at the event a rose because it was Valentine’s Day week,” Friebe said, tearing up. “He wanted everybody to feel special. That’s love and sacrifice because roses are not cheap.”

The group laughed.

Remembering Victor McElhaney, who wanted to change the world

USC Thornton Professor Peter Erskine, who taught McElhaney at USC Thornton, remembered when he met McElhaney’s mother, Oakland Councilwoman Lynette Gibson McElhaney, at a luncheon for transfer students in 2017. He asked what her son wanted to do. He wants to change the world, she told him.

Committing to changing the world as Victor wanted to do might just be the best thing we can do to honor him.

Peter Erskine

“Cursing the darkness has not done my soul much good this week,” Erskine said, fighting back tears. “But committing to changing the world as Victor wanted to do might just be the best thing we can do to honor him and to honor his family.”

During the memorial, Black Alumni Association Executive Director Michele Turner announced the creation of a scholarship in McElhaney’s honor. The audience roared in applause, giving Turner a standing ovation. With that, McElhaney’s name will live on at USC.

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