Friends of Zhenxiu Mao gathered yesterday afternoon to talk about their memories of his life and share their sorrow with Mao's parents, who traveled from China after learning of their son's death.
Mao, a first-year graduate student in mathematics, was found dead in his Cambridge apartment on Feb. 28. He was 23 years old. A reception and short service were held in his memory on March 15, planned by the Chinese Students and Scholars Association.
The smell of chrysanthemums filled the room in W11 as each guest placed a single flower in a vase near Mao's photograph and peered at a few of the remnants of his short life: his CDs, including Nirvana and The Eagles, a stuffed MIT beaver toy, his bookbag, a mathematics textbook.
"Zhenxiu, dear son, how come you left your parents who loved you so much and left your just-wed wife to go to an unknown world? We miss you so. We really don't want to let you go," Mao's father, Peijing Mao, read from his notes in Chinese as Yuhua Hu, graduate student in chemical engineering and president of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, translated into English for those students, faculty members and staff present who did not understand Chinese.
"We know you are an ordinary person, but you achieved extraordinary success in your short life," said Mao's father, touching on his son's generosity and dedication to his family. Mao had saved money from his MIT stipend to buy his father a digital camera and had plans to help pay for the education of his niece and nephew.
"He was a wonderful and talented student," said Professor Michael Sipser, head of the Department of Mathematics where Mao had been studying since last fall after earning his B.A. and M.S. from Yale University. Sipser said that all the students in the department are exceptional and described Mao as "the best of the best."
"I am a parent, too, and I really cannot imagine the pain you must be going through," Sipser said to the Maos.
To honor their son, the Maos plan to use the money that Mao earned in mathematics prizes, along with money collected for the family by the Chinese Students and Scholars Association at MIT, to establish the Zhenxiu Fund at his high school for students who wish to study mathematics.
Mao's father and mother, Shui Liu, arrived Saturday from their home in Ningbo, in the Zhejiang province in China. Friends from Yale University also attended the memorial service at MIT.
Mao is survived by his wife, Jingqi Sun, his parents, and his brother, Zhenyi Mao, all of China.