‘Let her light shine through you:’ Life of slain University of Utah student Lauren McCluskey celebrated in her hometown

(Steve C. Wilson, University of Utah via Associated Press) This August photo shows Lauren McCluskey, a U. student and track athlete who was fatally shot on campus on Oct. 22, 2018. She was remembered Sunday as kind, talented and driven.

Family members, friends and coaches remembered University of Utah student and athlete Lauren McCluskey as kind, sensitive, intelligent, dedicated and beautiful at a Sunday celebration of her life held in her hometown of Pullman, Wash.

University of Utah President Ruth Watkins and track and field coach Kyle Kepler were among the hundreds of mourners who turned out to remember the 21-year-old U. track and field athlete and Pullman High School graduate at the Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories Event Center. McCluskey was shot and killed on the U. campus last month by a man she had briefly dated; he died hours later by suicide.

Jill McCluskey, Lauren’s mother, said her daughter was special from the beginning. “She was driven, smart, athletically gifted and beautiful,” she said, standing next to her husband, Matt. “She was hard-working and resilient.”

She said she told her daughter her sensitive nature and empathy were her superpowers. “These abilities allowed her to really see people and show kindness to them,” Jill McCluskey said.

“Every day right now is painful for us because I know I can’t pick up the phone and call you,” she said. “I can’t go on mom jogs with you when you come home from college.”

She said she was proud of how her daughter lived her life and was looking forward to seeing it unfold.

“I will let your light shine through me every day with kindness, empathy and inclusion and work toward that,” Jill McCluskey said. “And I encourage everyone else to let her light shine through you in the same way.”

A large photo of McCluskey, her blue PHS letterman jacket, red Utah jacket and other memorabilia were displayed near the front of the stage.

Some of McCluskey’s friends reflected on her love for singing, dancing, animals — especially cats — and even her joy in unplanned trips to Target.

One friend said one of the greatest nights of her life was the night before McCluskey died, an evening filled with singing and dancing. Another said her favorite thing about McCluskey was her laugh, explaining she would laugh with her whole body and without a care in the world. She said the two would often laugh themselves to sleep.

Others noted her success as an athlete and a student. “Lauren set high goals and expectations for herself and was always willing to work hard to meet them,” a family friend said. “She was surely destined to do great things in this world.”

Another family friend said McCluskey was drawn to deeper things in life, like philosophy, ethics and writing. “She brought only good to this world,” she said.

One of McCluskey’s former Utah teammates said McCluskey was reserved when it came to speaking about herself, but she always wanted to know more about others.

“She had such a fun personality that would light up everyone around her,” the teammate said.

She said McCluskey was dedicated to school, athletics, her faith and friends.

“Lauren was a teammate that everyone loves to have,” the teammate said. “She was always dependable. She was almost always early — sometimes a little too early — but that just made her Lauren.”

Kepler described McCluskey as genuine, sweet, respected and coachable. He said she had a relentless determination to improve and achieve excellence every day.

“She always led by example and she cared about everyone every single day,” he said. “Lauren was most definitely the person who looked in the mirror and asked, ‘How can I be a better person today than I was yesterday?’ And then she went out and tried to find that answer every day.”

Watkins said McCluskey was exactly the type of student who makes any university campus vibrant. She said it was an honor to posthumously award a communication degree to McCluskey, and said a scholarship fund established in her name already has collected more than enough money to be endowed. Nearly $50,000 has been raised, she said, with contributions from all over the world.

Watkins said the university will be able to provide the first scholarships in McCluskey’s name next fall.

“Lauren will always be remembered at the University of Utah,” Watkins said.

Garrett Cabeza can be reached at (208) 883-4631, or by email to gcabeza@dnews.com.