Princeton student Kevin Chang ’23 died near his home in Troy, Mich., on April 28 at the age of 19, just two days before his 20th birthday. He was studying remotely from Troy this spring.
Chang was born at the Torrance Memorial Medical Center in Torrance, California on April 30, 2001, and he moved with his parents to Troy in 2006 so that they could live closer to his mother’s family.
Chang’s father, David Jo Kung Chang ’89, celebrated Kevin’s memory and emphasized his love for his late son in an interview with the ‘Prince.’
“He was very responsible; to his mom and me, he was such a good boy. We never had to worry about him getting into trouble or creating problems,” Chang said. “He was very much a self-starter and took care of himself. He was just a kind person and always our perfect son, whom any parent would dream to have. We feel so fortunate to have him for the 19 years that we’ve had.”
According to his father, Kevin Chang enjoyed the miniature war game Warhammer 40,000, popular video games such as Apex Legends, and was a pianist in his spare time. He often learned anime soundtracks by downloading the sheet music and playing for his family. One of the last songs he played for his mother was “You Say Run!” from the soundtrack of Boku no Hero Academia.
Chang attended Wattles Elementary School in Troy before joining Detroit Country Day School in 4th grade. He remained a student there until he completed high school.
A stellar student, Chang was a National Merit Finalist, conducted research on Chytrid aquatic fungal species at the University of Michigan in the summer before his senior year of high school, and graduated summa cum laude from Detroit Country Day School in 2019.
Renee Zacks, a teacher at Detroit Country Day School who served as an advisor to Chang throughout his four years of high school, spoke of Chang’s sympathy towards others.
“Kevin was obviously super intelligent, but more importantly, particularly in the role I had with him, he was just an extremely compassionate and caring person,” Zacks emphasized. “[He was] always asking other people how they were doing. Students kind of see the world from who they are and don’t always think of teachers as people, but he would always ask me stuff about me and my kids.”
He was also a skilled athlete. Chang joined the varsity swim team at Detroit Country Day School in his sophomore year, qualified for the Michigan state championships in his junior year, and became a co-captain of the varsity swim team in his senior year.
Marc J. Fazio, a biology teacher at Detroit Country Day School who had Chang in his AP Biology class and was the varsity boys swim coach during Chang’s first two years on the team, remarked on Chang’s determination and resilience as an athlete.
“As a sophomore, he just missed the state cut in the 100-yard breaststroke, which was his main event,” Fazio explained. “He came into his junior year hellbent, ‘I am making this cut.’ And he actually made the cut in the middle of the season, very early on. A lot of people who work really hard but fell short are a little reluctant to work hard again, but his resolve just became even greater.”
Fazio also recalled that when he left his position as the swim coach, just as Chang became co-captain of the swim team, Chang was instrumental in maintaining the unity and cohesion of the team during a difficult transition period.
With artist Anthony Lee, Chang authored a picture book titled “Save the Bees!” He sold over 100 copies and donated over $800 in profits to the Stage Nature Center of the Troy Nature Society.
Chang entered the University as a member of Rockefeller College in the fall of 2019, planning to concentrate in chemical and biological engineering and pursue a certificate in environmental studies. Rockefeller College Dean Justine Levine remembered him as “a kind, generous, empathetic, caring member of our community.”
Fatinah Albeez ’23, a fellow concentrator in chemical and biological engineering and resident of Troy, reflected on Chang’s impact on her as a close friend.
“Having Kevin on campus as a freshman made campus feel a lot more [like a home], knowing that there’s someone from Troy who knew the exact same things that I was missing,” Albeez recollected. “Kevin was an incredible listener. When you spoke to him, he would thoughtfully listen, and when he responded to you, it was a very thoughtful response. You never doubted that he [was] listening to you.”
Albeez also spoke of a distinctive hand wave, in the form of a two-fingered salute, that Chang often utilized with his close friends.
“I spoke to some of Kevin’s friends, and they told me that at one point, they all started using that wave. Any time I ran into him, he would use that signature wave. I’m going to miss that a lot,” she said.
Anna M. Shields, a professor of East Asian studies and chair of the department, taught Chang in her spring 2021 course, EAS 232: Introduction to Chinese Literature, and remarked on Chang’s kindness that she observed in class.
“He was taking an intellectual risk by taking this course as a CBE major, and I really respected that in a student,” Shields said. “He seemed like a shy student among a lot of people who talked a lot, but he was incredibly sweet and just [had a] very gentle and warm personality.”
Chang is survived by his father David Jo Kung Chang and his mother May Yen Chang.
A virtual memorial service was held over Zoom at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, April 28. Dean of Religious Life and of the Chapel Rev. Alison Boden hosted the event, which was attended by over 140 students, staff, and faculty members. An in-person vigil took place at 5 p.m. on Thursday, April 29 for students to gather and reflect.
The Kevin Chang ’23 Memorial Fund has been set up in Chang’s memory; all gifts will be made to Princeton’s Counseling and Psychological Services in support of student wellness and mental health. To specify that the donation is for the memorial fund, enter “In memory of Kevin Chang fund H10013” in the special instructions field. Next, select “In Memory Of” in the drop down menu and enter “Kevin Chang ’23.”
This story was updated on May 20 to include comments from Renee Zacks.