“He was very committed to the sense that the Earth is a very beautiful and complex system of life that deserves to be protected,’’ Tucker says.
Tucker recalls Jiang creating a backyard garden at his home in New Haven as part of her “Environmental History and Values” course, mirroring the values of Henry David Thoreau.
“Kevin took pictures and filmed every aspect of it,” she says. “He made its construction part of his final project along with commentary from Thoreau. When it was washed out by a torrential rain, he simply rebuilt it and documented its regeneration. That’s how he was — always filled with positive energy, delight, and curiosity.”
By the end of the semester, she said, Jiang had grown kale, swiss chard, and lettuce.
“He was so delighted he could do it. There was no ego; it was more, eco. He just exuded this joy in nature and life.”
Stuart DeCew, executive director of the Center for Business and the Environment at Yale, remembers Jiang as a standout in his “Fundamentals of Working with People” course — always willing to catalyze conversations, question his own perspectives and learn from peers, and put his own values into practice.
For a class assignment, DeCew recalls Jiang outlining his four key tenets: God, family, friends and hobbies, and financial independence.
“He believed deeply in service,” DeCew says. “He thought about how he could support and help others in the world.”
It was not uncommon to enter Sage Hall to see Jiang playing the piano to welcome his classmates. For his final project in DeCew’s course, Jiang submitted a poem, “Respecting Different People.”
“His emphasis was on how he contributed, how he held community, how he helped his mom,’’ says DeCew. “And his real north star was finding a relationship he could build a family with.’’
Jiang, who was just days away from his 27th birthday, was recently engaged to his fiancée, a graduate student at Yale. The two had met just a year ago on a church retreat and, along with Jiang’s mother, were active volunteers at New Haven’s Trinity Baptist Church. In addition to his many listed talents, Jiang was also fluent in Mandarin and had begun delving into real estate investment, spurred by an interest in eco-friendly housing for lower-income and homeless populations.
“Looking back, in my 30 years of teaching, he’s the single most effective student I ever had,’’ says Benoit. “He was such a bright light to be extinguished so early. Some people are embers and smolder, but he flamed and burned very brightly when he was here.”
Close to 700 members of the YSE and Yale communities were joined by Kevin’s family, fiancée, and members of his National Guard Unit at an online vigil celebrating his life on February 8. President Salovey spoke of the importance of coming together as a community even remotely as necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic, while Dean Burke, YSE students, faculty, and staff shared stories of Kevin’s kindness, faith, and dedication to the environment. A memorial is being planned for a future date and more information will be posted as it becomes available.