Two UC Berkeley students were killed in terrorist attacks within a span of two weeks this past July. Sophomore Tarishi Jain and 20 others were killed by armed men storming a café in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Nicolas Leslie, a junior, went missing and was eventually found dead after a truck driver murdered at least 84 people on the streets of Nice, France. Three other Berkeley students were injured in the attack.
Although Nicolas and Tarishi had different lives and career paths ahead of them, they had one thing in common: untapped potential.
At Tarishi’s vigil, a message was read from the Chowdhury family (whose funding made her studies abroad possible), expressing the devastation of losing such a motivated student with so much ability: “She was a very talented young lady, with passion to make a positive difference in the world.”
Nicolas’s father, Conrad, said that similar sentiments were echoed at his son’s vigil—that Nicolas was so bright, that he lit up every room he walked into, and that it was a tragedy to have that light put out. “People loved him so much,” Conrad said.
What made Nicolas so impressive was his ability to learn anything he wanted to—quickly and well.
“He would do one thing and move on to the next, sucking it in so fast. He was kite surfing at 10 when most people were barely swimming. He was an instructor showing me how to do tricks,” Conrad said. “He excelled in everything he did, from art to sports…. Then in high school he switched over to speech and debate, and became captain of the team.”
According to Conrad, Nicolas was studying at Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources and had planned a career in environmentalism, but he soon realized that if he wanted to make change in the world, he had to get into business. So the ambitious fast-learner applied to the Haas School of Business and was accepted just before his trip. Nicolas was also active in Net Impact Berkeley, a group focused on social responsibility and environmental stewardship through business. At the time of the attack, Nicolas was on a summer study abroad trip with Berkeley’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Europe program.
Conrad said that even though his and his wife’s first thoughts were about Nicolas being robbed of his future, they take comfort in knowing that he had so many rewarding experiences and basically crammed 70 years of life into 20.
Like Nicolas, Tarishi was determined to make a positive difference in society. She helped create EthiCal Apparel, profits from which gave microloans to low-income people. Tarishi had graduated from the American International School in Dhaka before transferring to Berkeley in 2015. She soon became an active member of the International Student Advisory Committee, organizing events for international students. She, too, was studying abroad at the time of her death, doing an internship at Eastern Bank Limited through Cal’s Subir and Malini Chowdhury Center for Bangladesh Studies.
Tarishi’s friends remember her as persistent and highly motivated to achieve her personal goals—but always, caring. And her altruism wasn’t limited to friends. She was known for her kindness and respect toward those she worked with.
“Her unwavering enthusiasm for the organization and its members was undeniable. She was a leader members looked up to,” was posted on the Facebook page for International Students Association at Berkeley, “but above all, she was a caring friend who we knew we could rely on.”
In the wake of such terrible losses, questions have arisen about the safety of the study abroad program. In the nine years that the program has been running, there have been no other instances of students dying in terrorist attacks. After this year’s attacks, 14 students opted to leave their programs early and return home. Berkeley hasn’t cancelled any of this year’s programs.
Peter Bartu, a peace and conflict studies professor at Berkeley, acknowledges that the danger of violence appears to be more random now—including in the United States. Rather than considering the cancellation of study abroad programs, which Bartu says are essential to student learning and research, the focus should be on caution.
“It’s now more than ever that students, staff, and faculty need to sensibly pursue and preserve their vital inquiries into the state of the world, recognizing the complexities and dangers in its various parts,” Bartu said. “All programs need to take a risk-management approach which preserves the experience to the extent possible without endangering students and faculty.”