Wonshik Shin '19, an undergraduate from Seoul, South Korea, was found dead in his dorm room on the morning of Dec. 18. He was 19.
According to the Mercer County Medical Examiner's office, Shin’s death has been ruled a suicide.
Shin graduated from the Korean Minjok Leadership Academy, a boarding high school in Hoengseong, Gangwon, South Korea. Prior to arriving on campus, he was a member of a popular talk show program in Korea called “The Brave Teenagers” that featured several high school students and aired in 2015. Shin also authored two books on Korean folk culture while in high school.
On campus, Shin was a member of Forbes College.
He was a member of the Korean American Students Association, the VTone a cappella group, the Princeton University Rock Ensemble, and the ‘KGSA and friends’ intramural soccer team. He was also a blog columnist for The Daily Princetonian. He was a prospective neuroscience major.
Friends interviewed said they remembered Shin as a kind, humble, and hard-working person who was passionate about neuroscience, literature and history, and the state of affairs in South Korea.
Ricky Chae '18, currently the president of KASA, met Shin last year when Shin joined the Frosh Board of KASA. Shin served as one of the events directors on the board.
"When I first met Wonshik a year and a half ago, I was immediately captivated by this pleasant aura that surrounded him,” Chae said. “He was always the first one to say hello, the first one to put a smile on my face, and the first one to reach out for my hands when I needed help.”
Chae added that through KASA, Shin brought many great ideas to the table and was passionate about sharing Korean culture with the rest of the University community.
Hyewon Kim '17 said that she felt Shin was a warm, caring, and loving person who did not hesitate to pursue the truth.
Kim met Shin in August of last year in Korea at an event in which Korean students at the University got to know incoming freshmen.
Last month, she attended a demonstration led by a group of University students addressing the political scandal concerning the South Korean president, Park Geun-hye. Shin was one of four students to conceive of the demonstration.
“I went to Nassau Hall to support the students, and I remember his voice being so clear and grounded. I was so proud of him, the students who organized the initiative, as well as [for] being a fellow Korean citizen,” Kim said. “I respected his continuous involvement in matters that were important both to him and those he cared about.”
Ien Li '19, a fellow prospective neuroscience major and Forbes resident, took NEU 331: Case Studies: Introduction to Clinical Neuropsychology and NEU 314: Mathematical Tools for Neuroscience with Shin this fall.
“Whether in [NEU 331 or 314], Wonshik was always cheerful, respectful, and an all-around sweet guy,” said Li. “He was so hardworking too — I'd find him studying in the kitchen, in the dining hall, everywhere in Forbes. I wish I'd met him earlier, but I know that he was filled with talent, joy, and promise.”
Nicole Drummond GS, a graduate student at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute said he remembers Shin as a brilliant student. Drummond was Shin’s preceptor for NEU 201: Fundamentals of Neuroscience this fall.
“Wonshik was an exceptional student in precept,” Drummond said. “He was always interested, engaging, and thoughtful. He will be missed by us all.”
Aiden Han '17, who took NEU 314 with Shin, said that Shin always wondered why human beings think and act in certain ways and was interested in the ways scientists are working to solve these questions.
Han added that Shin loved to read.
“He told me that his father was a professor teaching Korean literature and his family cultivated his love for literature, history, and music,” Han said.
Cadee Qiu '18, who knew Shin through CHI 411: Readings in Modern Chinese Intellectual History this fall, noted how Shin was always in class with a smile.
“He always had a positive attitude, making insightful and humorous comments,” Qiu said. “There was a certain ease and happiness about him, which is why his death was so shocking. He had such a wonderful and light presence, and I'll really miss him next semester.”
Matt Błażejewski, a member of the Princeton Mental Health Initiative Board, also knew Shin through CHI 411. He said that Shin’s passion for Chinese was surpassed only by his kindness and friendliness.
“We bonded over our shared interest in language learning and love of performance, and I was humbled by how he so willingly shared his own personal experiences with me,” Błażejewski said. “His boundless enthusiasm always brightened the room and I hope to carry his bright light in all that I do.”
Others noted Shin’s passions for singing and playing soccer.
Zoe Tu '18 met Shin through VTone when he auditioned his freshman fall, and the two served as co-publicity chairs this semester.
“From day one, all of us were extremely impressed with not just his incredible voice and swoon-worthy stage presence, but more with just how incredibly nice he was,” she said.
According to Tu, Shin’s favorite musical genre was rock.
“One particularly memorable incident during our last spring show was during tech rehearsal when he would wail ‘PLUG IN BABY’ — a rock song by Muse — at top volume over and over again into the mic to warm up for a PURE performance while the rest of us were just chilling backstage,” Tu said. “He loved music so much. And he was just a riot to be around.”
Lucy Lin '18 also first met Shin during his audition for VTone.
“I was supposed to be guarding the door to the room for auditions, but I snuck inside so I could hear him sing,” she said. “And he blew all of us away. His voice was beautiful and clear, and he sang with so much confidence and joy. And all of us fell in love.”
Lin added that all who knew Shin are blessed that he was a part of their lives.
“I miss him,” she said. “I miss the way he belted his heart out during rock songs. The way he made me watch videos of Freddie Mercury even though I have no knowledge of rock. The way he smiled every time he saw me and came over with his arms stretched wide open, ready for a hug.”
Feyisola Soetan '19, a Forbes resident who first met Shin during frosh week when he introduced himself at the first college dinner, said she remembers Shin for his friendliness.
“I wonder if we would’ve met if he hadn’t introduced himself to me in a bout of friendliness at our first college dinner,” Soetan said. 'Wow, that was really good!' said a boyish voice from behind me after I spoke a Korean phrase. I turned to find a cute Korean boy with huge black nerdy glasses smiling broadly at me. 'I’m from South Korea too. My name is Wonshik. What’s your name?'”
Soetan said that Shin used to invite her to hear him sing while she invited him to her dance shows.
“I’m not sure either of us made it to a single of each other’s events; we’d express our regrets and apologies later,” she said. “It was all taken for granted — we’d catch a meal later, we’ll definitely be at the next show — as friendships often are in the fast-paced campus lifestyle we live.”
Soetan added that she was going to miss being able to spot Shin from a distance by his “floppy hair, huge glasses, and chic boxy Korean backpacks.”
“I’m grateful for all of Wonshik’s smiles, for all his enthusiasm even when we were both clearly tired at 3 am, up and studying,” she said.
Matt Wie '17, captain of the ‘KGSA and friends’ intramural soccer team, said that Shin was the “true MVP” of the team.
“To say that he loved soccer is an understatement,” Wie said. “He came to every game, and even on days we didn’t have any, he would just message us and cajole us into scrimmaging.”
Wie added that Shin was a “star player,” having scored the team’s most goals, which led the team to become IM champions twice.
“In the last game we had with him, on Dec. 15, Wonshik made the winning goal and won us the indoor soccer league championship,” he said.
Alison Campion '16, Shin’s Residential College Adviser last year, noted that Shin “exemplified the type of student we are lucky to get to know at Princeton: talented and smart, but kind, thoughtful, and modest.”
“He was someone who had so many friends, admirers, and followers — but you would have never known that just by talking to him. He was down-to-earth and honest," she added.
Campion added that Shin brought friendship and light into the zee group and that she was honored to have been his RCA for the year.
“He will always be a part of the lives of the people he knew, and we certainly were lucky to know him,” she said.
Christian Ramos '19, Shin’s roommate last year and this year, wrote a letter to himself a day after Shin passed away, which he shared with the Daily Princetonian.
“I look up to him with admiration. All I can do is cherish his legacy and look back on the times we did share with joy,” Ramos wrote in the letter.
“He was full of love and kindness which reflected through the soft, soothing voice he sang with. It was the same angelical tone of voice that he also talked with. He was my friend, he was your friend, and he was everyone’s friend because Wonshik never turned a single person away. He had a captivating aura that just drew you to him,” Ramos continued. “Although the amount of time that he spent with us was less than ideal, I’m grateful that I was blessed enough to have met him ... May his soul rest in peace.”
The Class of 2019 council provided a statement to The Daily Princetonian.
“We offer our sincerest condolences to Wonshik Shin’s loved ones,” the statement said. “Wonshik was a treasured member of our community and Princeton will not be the same without him.”
Through a collective effort by Shin’s friends, a memorial has been established in the lobby of Forbes College in honor of Shin’s life. Students are welcome to stop by and leave messages or pictures on the memorial.
A gathering of remembrance for Shin was held on Dec. 18 at Forbes College. Another gathering, "Friday Tea and Talk: Remembering Wonshik," on Jan. 13 was held in the Forbes lounge for members of the University community to reflect on and share memories of Shin. Members of Counseling and Psychological Services and Office of Religious Life joined the gathering.
“Today, we experienced the loss of our friend and colleague, Wonshik Shin ’19," Head of Forbes College Michael Hecht said in an email to Forbes residents on Dec. 18. "Each of us — Wonshik, you, and me — traveled to Princeton on a different pathway. Yet, all our paths intersected at Forbes, where we became bound together as one community.”
“Wonshik’s friends described him as one who always searched for meaning. May his search for meaning inspire us to understand that all humans experience times of distress. And may his departure inspire us to respond to such distress with compassion and care for one another,” Hecht said in the email.
In a press release issued on Dec. 18, the University extended its condolences to Shin’s family and encouraged students to visit counseling and psychological services if they need emotional assistance.