Jazz Chang ’23, a junior in the computer science department and beloved brother and friend, died on May 13 in Princeton, N.J. Chang was 21.
Chang was born in New Brunswick, N.J. on Aug. 30, 2000 to parents Stephen B. Chang and Mai Lin and grew up in Somerset, N.J. with two older brothers, Jonathan Chang and Justin Lin. Chang’s family remembered a keenness for learning at a young age, as Chang became skilled in nine languages.
Lin, the middle brother, recalled Chang’s enthusiasm for reading.
“Before Jazz got the first Kindle, we used to hold flashlights under the covers to read fantasy books like Eragon, Harry Potter, etc.,” he wrote to The Daily Princetonian. “Such was Jazz’s love of language and reading that his room is filled with 300+ classic books in multiple languages.”
“Jazz had a most special way of conveying love through gift giving and sharing of his passions, be it books, languages, cool vocab words, good deals, and delicious food,” Lin said.
Lin remembered Chang as a “deep thinker” who always wanted “the beliefs and worldviews to mean something before ascribing to them.”
“Jazz deeply cared about others, rejecting the mundanity of ordinary routines as Jazz always pushed himself and others towards higher purpose, be it beauty or love of others,” Lin said.
Lin recalled one night in particular during college when he and Chang “went to a local steakhouse and bought the largest 56 oz steak and roasted potatoes.”
“For a few hours, we forgot about the stresses of college and just chatted about life and worldview,” he said.
Rebecca Yang, who met Chang in kindergarten, recounted their friendship at a funeral service held on May 19 at the University Chapel.
“We didn’t become best friends until fifth grade, when we both sat in the [advanced] math class,” she said. “Jazz found it very fun to annoy me in different ways, especially by poking me in my sides.”
Chang attended St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Edison, N.J., and remained close with Yang. She said that Chang’s free-spirited nature complemented her shyness.
“Jazz was unapologetically himself and he made me believe I could do the same,” she said. “I feel so lucky that he brought me out of my shell and along with him on his escapades.”
Elizabeth Zhao, Chang’s friend from high school, shared Chang’s ability to make her feel “safe, understood, and at home.” Yang echoed that sentiment.
“There were things that I knew I could only talk to him about because he would be the only one who would understand and validate my feelings. I could confess my most unflattering thoughts without worrying about him thinking less of me,” Yang said.
In the summer of 2019, before beginning at the University, Chang participated in the Princeton in Beijing program. Henry Zhao, the program manager, recalled Chang as someone who was “reserved yet simmering with energy and curiosity.”
“Jazz was someone who did not necessarily need to be the center of attention nor seek recognition and praise but found it equally gratifying spreading happiness outside of the spotlight, delighting in leaving little unannounced gifts — be it snacks or stuffed animals — as a way of brightening someone’s day from afar,” he said in an email statement to the ‘Prince.’
Luanfeng Huang, a lecturer in the East Asian Studies Department with whom Chang took classical Chinese in the fall of 2019 and spring of 2020, described Chang’s determination in learning the language.
In a statement to the ‘Prince,’ she recollected Chang’s request for worksheets on traditional characters, which Huang had to make because she only had handouts for simplified characters. She recalled with particularly gratitude the soft-spoken way in which Chang showed thanks for this act.
“Jazz left a yellow stuffed animal on my office desk without saying a word — it was his special way of showing his appreciation,” she said.
To those who knew Chang well, receiving such a gift was deeply meaningful.
“Whoever was gifted a stuffed animal by Jazz was dearly, dearly loved,” Lin, Chang’s brother, told the ‘Prince.’ “I still remember when I bought Jazz his signature lobster; the look on his face remains in my mind as the ultimate quintessence of happiness.”
At Princeton, Chang was a computer science (COS) concentrator and tutored the course COS 126: Computer Science: An Interdisciplinary Approach. Jennifer Rexford ’91, chair of the COS department, described Chang as a “thoughtful and supportive person.”
“Jazz was also exceptionally bright and inquisitive, with an insatiable thirst for knowledge and travel,” she wrote in a statement to the ‘Prince.’ “He will be sorely missed.”
Christiane Fellbaum GS ’80, a lecturer in the COS department, taught Chang in three courses and served as an advisor. In an interview with the ‘Prince,’ she remembered Chang’s curiosity.
“Long after a course was over, he would pepper me with questions, ask for more readings, and once even requested to sit in the next time I taught the class in order to hear what a new crop of students thought about the material we covered,” she said. “His quiet determination and search for happy solitude were affecting.”
Chang’s tender nature made him cherished among his friends at Princeton. Loki Lin ’22 described the support he received from Chang when Lin came out to Chang.
“I remember we had just spent the whole day together, and the entire time I had this weight on my chest because I wanted to come out to him but couldn’t quite find the words,” he wrote in a statement to the ‘Prince.’
Looking back on March 2020 when students were asked to leave campus, Loki Lin wrote, “right before I left, standing in the hallway as he was about to close the door, I managed to get the words out. I think I cried a little bit as I said it.”
“Immediately his face filled with concern, and he swung the door wide open. He thanked me for telling him and asked if I wanted to talk about it, now or any other time. That day opened a floodgate for me,” he said.
To Loki Lin, their friendship with Chang was a source of solace and hope.
“When there aren’t a lot of people around you who are like you, who share your most core identities, I think this kind of magnified our similarities, at least to me,” Loki Lin wrote. “When other people told me it gets better, I had a hard time believing them. But I believed Jazz when he said it.”
“What I remember most about Jazz is how enduringly he loved his friends,” said Ellen Li ’23, one of Chang’s close friends. “He took the time to remind you that he cared and was happy to know you, whether it was through saying that out loud or sending pictures of his stuffed lobster.”
Li is a former features editor at the ‘Prince.’
In an email to the ‘Prince,’ Li shared a story of Chang baking cookies for friends during finals week in Fall 2021.
“After a full day spent finding ingredients and figuring out a time to bake, he finally came by the kitchen around 12 a.m.,” she wrote. “When I think of Jazz, I’ll think of planning for a friend’s birthday instead of studying for finals, biking five miles to and from Trader Joes’ for a bottle of almond extract, & fresh amaretti in the dead of night.”
José Pabón ’19 met Chang as a student in COS 126, and was struck by Chang’s humility and intelligence.
“Jazz would kindly change the subject and/or hide his graded work when I asked if he struggled with an assignment or examination. Of course eventually I noticed he had stellar grades; he would more often than not pretend to be confused as I was just so we would get more explanations,” Pabón said in a statement to the ‘Prince.’
Lin described and friends echoed Chang’s ability of “empathizing with others, particularly when others were left out, sad, or in need of love.” Kate Daugherty ’23, who played with Chang on the ultimate frisbee team, remarked on this.
“Jazz saw me more clearly than I ever knew at the time,” she told the ‘Prince.’ “The last thing I have from him is a handwritten note that he left outside my door in the days that we evacuated campus in March 2020. In it, Jazz thanked me for being his team captain and described some of the challenges I had faced but thought nobody else saw.”
“I want Jazz to know how much it means for someone to pay attention to you like that. He was perceptive, empathetic, silly, and determined. He was a wonderful teammate and community member and made us better for being around him,” she added. “Rest easy, Jazz.”
Chang is survived by mother Mai Lin, father Stephen Chang, and brothers Jonathan Chang and Justin Lin.
If you have stories, memories, or images of Jazz that you would like to share with the family, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. Chang’s family will collect them to distribute to friends.
The University has set up the Jazz Chang ’23 Memorial Fund, where monetary gifts can be donated. According to Deputy Spokesperson for the University Michael Hotchkiss, “[t]he funds will be directed within the University based on the family’s wishes.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @s_smangat.