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Family, friends mourn the loss of Abraham Joshua ’21

<h5>Abraham Joshua <strong>’21</strong></h5>
<h6><strong>Courtesy of Jamison Mercurio</strong></h6>
Abraham Joshua ’21
Courtesy of Jamison Mercurio

Abraham Joshua ’21, a recent graduate of the chemistry department, died on March 2 in San Francisco, Calif. due to a collision between his electric scooter and a semi-truck. Joshua was a science teacher at Mission Preparatory School and was on his way to work. He was 23 years old. 

Joshua, known affectionately among loved ones as “Abe,” was born on Nov. 25, 1998 in Texas to parents Elizabeth Kidane and Dr. Eyassu Hailemichael. After moving to Washington, D.C., the family eventually settled in Morgantown, W.Va., where Joshua grew up with his brother, Samson. 

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Joshua with his family following graduation. From left to right: his father, Eyassu Hailemichael, his brother, Samson Joshua, and his mother, Elizabeth Kidane.
Courtesy of Joshua’s family

Always an avid reader and intellectually curious student, Joshua attended Suncrest Middle School in the gifted program. One of his classmates, James Deng, reflected on the impression that Joshua had on him at such a young age.

“What made Abe really important to my life was that he was a compassionate person who always had time for me and always made me feel included,” he said in an interview with The Daily Princetonian. 

Joshua later enrolled at Morgantown High School, where he and Deng remained friends, with Deng fondly recalling studying for the SAT and “playing hundreds of hours of League of Legends” with him. 

At Morgantown, Joshua found a passion for chemistry and an outlet in singing, competing in the school quiz bowl and performing in the show choir. 

Sidd Subramanyam, with whom Joshua won the 2016 state Science Bowl competition, recalled the impact his friend had. 

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“Abe was a kind and brilliant soul who bettered the lives of everyone he met. His selflessness and care for ordinary people and his friends motivated him every day of his life,” he said in an interview with the ‘Prince.’ “I will forever cherish the time we spent laughing, learning, competing, and playing.”

Joshua (far left) and Subramanyam (far right) after winning the 2016 West Virginia Science Bowl.
Courtesy of Sidd Subramanyam

Joshua also had an interest in writing and, while in high school, he created an anthology of his thoughts on various subjects entitled “Reflections.” In it, he discusses his interest in studying chemistry, stating that for him, it was a way of “seeing the truth.” He also expressed his interest in having his writing published in the future.

Joshua would sing at school talent shows, and his friends described him as a skilled dancer. He would continue performing at Princeton, joining Old NasSoul and the Black Arts Company. 

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Kateryn McReynolds ’20 became acquainted with Joshua over the years in her capacity as a singer in the Princeton Tigerlilies. 

“Abe was one of the best men I’ve known, a true class-act, with a humor that could arrest anybody and a mind and heart that didn’t shy from darkness, but sought to [illuminate] truth and goodness from every situation,” she said in an interview with the ‘Prince.’

“He had a gift for making anyone feel at ease and familiar to him,“ she added. “I’m blessed to have been a friend of Abe.”

On March 3, Old NasSoul and a number of other University acapella groups held an arch sing in memory of Joshua. 

Joshua, in the center, performing with the Black Arts Company.
Courtesy of Samm Lee

During his time at the University, Joshua concentrated in chemistry and earned a certificate in Materials Science and Engineering. The Department of Chemistry sent a letter to Joshua’s family in wake of the tragedy.

In an email to the ‘Prince,’ Professor Michael Kelly GS ’97, with whom Joshua took a thermodynamics class, remarked on his experience with him as a student.

“Thermodynamics is often considered a dry subject, but I had more fun teaching that class with Abe than perhaps any other student. With Abe, there was this natural synergy that allowed us to inject funny stories, humorous anecdotes, bad jokes, and terrible puns into the discussion. I never had a student like him. We shook hands at the end of the semester. He said it was his favorite course, but I told him the pleasure was all mine,” he said. 

“Abe was special and I loved him for it,” Kelly said.

Joshua completed his senior thesis with Professor Rodney Priestley. His project focused on polymer chemistry, and he hoped his research could have applications in the design of new kinds of materials. 

Priestley recalled mentoring Joshua in an email statement to the ‘Prince.’

“It was truly an honor to be Abe’s senior thesis advisor. He was a very dedicated and talented researcher. But more importantly, he was a joy to be around and someone that always brought warmth and energy to the lab,” Priestley said. 

Professor Susan VanderKam GS ’99, who Joshua credited in his thesis for listening to his “periodic complaints,” also shared her memories of working with her former student. 

“We had an ongoing dialogue last spring about his research, and I was almost as excited as he was when the project started generating good results,” she said in an email to the ‘Prince.’ “Abe was everything we could have asked for in a role model — dedicated, gifted, and enthusiastic — and he will be greatly missed.”

After graduating, Joshua found work with Teach for America, and he moved to San Francisco to teach science at Mission Preparatory School. In his anthology “Reflections,“ he wrote that eventually he hoped to go to medical school, a goal of his since high school. 

Cynthia Jerez, executive director of the Mission Preparatory School, shared her experience working with Joshua in a written statement sent to the ‘Prince.’ 

“His contributions to our community went beyond the high rigor and creativity he brought to his science classroom,” she said. “Mr. Joshua could be found at all sports practices for boys and girls varsity and JV, giving up a prep period to support the school community with staff shortages during the Omicron variant in January, quietly serving as a mentor and big brother to our youth in our buddy program.”  

Joshua’s students left a number of cards and flowers at a roadside memorial to commemorate their teacher. 

“We love you so much Mr. Joshua. You were an amazing teacher. You didn’t deserve to pass away like this, but I hope you read this one day in heaven,” said one note left at the memorial. 

A roadside memorial for Joshua, with notes from his students.
Courtesy of Adam Wojekowski

Karla Gandiaga, Head of ARISE high school in Oakland, Calif. and a friend of Jerez, organized a GoFundMe alongside Joshua’s family to raise money for a scholarship in Joshua’s name. In the 11 days since it was started, the fundraiser has garnered more than $44,000 in donations. 

“Abe will continue to be an inspiration, as those who knew him remember all he achieved and contributed during his short life,” his family stated in an announcement introducing the scholarship. 

Joshua’s mentor Erica Worthington remarked on Joshua’s commitment to his students in the same statement. 

“Walking around the school, Abe was always dancing or laughing,” she wrote. “He embraced every challenge with a positive attitude and always pushed himself to reflect and improve his practice.”

Joshua’s funeral was held on March 10 in Camp Springs, Md. His friends, scattered all across the country, attended via Zoom. They also shared memories of Joshua in a Discord channel.

A whiteboard filled with students’ memories of Joshua.
Courtesy of Mission Preparatory School

Conor Vance ’20, Joshua’s roommate in his freshman and sophomore years, sent pictures in the channel and reflected on Joshua’s character in an interview with the ‘Prince.’

“He was one of the most individually sensitive, consistent, and empathetic people I’ve ever known, the kind to literally give someone the shirt off his back (it’s happened) or the bed he needed to sleep in,” he said. 

Olivia Lin, a friend of Joshua’s in high school, shared a note he had written to her as she was about to begin her senior year at her high school in Morgantown. 

“I once told you that my deepest fear is that those I truly care about will forget me, so I hope this helps. Some of these photos are downright terribile, but it isn’t picture quality that gives them value,“ Joshua wrote. 

Joshua was a year older than Lin, so he left her the message and a few photographs before he graduated and left for college.

In an interview with the ‘Prince,’ Lin described her reaction upon reading the note after learning of Joshua’s passing. 

“When I found it, the note hit me so hard because I had only remembered him giving me pictures. I didn’t remember that note. So when I read it, it just shook me because it’s exactly what I needed to read at this time. Abe and I sort of lost touch over the past few years since we both moved away. But I could never forget how special our friendship was in high school,” she said. 

“And it’s clear with all the people in that Discord and on the Zoom for his funeral that he made an impact on so many people and could never be forgotten,” she said.

Joshua is survived by his mother, Elizabeth Kidane; his father, Eyassu Hailemichael; and his brother, Samson Joshua.

Sandeep Mangat is an Associate News Editor who has reported on labor shortages on and off campus, University guidelines regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, international student life, and research led by Princeton faculty. He can be reached at smangat@princeton.edu and on Twitter @s_smangat.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Kateryn McReynolds ’20 was President of the Princeton Tigerlilies. In fact, she was a tour manager for the group. Additionally, an earlier version stated that Karla Gandiaga is the head of Mission Preparatory School. She is in fact the Head of ARISE, a high school based in Oakland, Calif.

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