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Joseph O'Connor - Memorial Statement


It is with profound sadness that The Department of World Languages and Cultures learned about the death of one of our most outstanding students, Joseph O’Connor.


Joseph was an exemplary student of French. Brilliant and hard-working, he did everything that was required of him promptly, eagerly, and with an eye toward perfection. His passion for French and France was obvious, but it was equally rewarding to watch his underlying interest in Romance Linguistics surface and blossom, ultimately leading him to a minor in Linguistics.


Joseph pursued these passions during his study abroad experience in Grenoble from fall 2012-spring 2013. While in France, he received honorable mention in all of the courses he took in the FLE program (teaching French as a foreign language). These included classes in French Linguistics, Phonetics, History, Literature, Cinema, Translation, Grammar, Conversation, and Education, among others. Joseph’s excellent performance in this wide range of disciplines provided evidence of his enthusiasm for the field, and served as a reliable predictor of what would have been his successful future as a PhD student and professor of French Linguistics.

Image of Joseph O'Connor with Natalie Lefkowitz

At Central Washington University (CWU), Joseph O’Connor was in the McNair Scholars Program. Dr. Natalie Lefkowitz had the distinct pleasure of being his McNair mentor, and directing his research on a cutting-edge topic related to French Applied Linguistics. Under her supervision, Joseph designed and conducted an original, empirical study on the use of oral and written codes in French social media. During this process, he proved himself to be self-motivated, thorough, receptive to suggestions, and creative. Dr. Lefkowitz was so impressed with Joseph’s work, that she encouraged him to submit it to the March 2014 meeting of the American Association for Applied Linguistics, (AAAL), the most prestigious conference in the field. Joseph’s proposal was accepted during a competitive year in which only one third of the proposals made the cut. The fact that he was an undergraduate at that time made his acceptance all the more exceptional. Joseph also presented his findings at our university’s conference for student research—The Symposium on University Research and Creative Expression (SOURCE).


Joseph received many honors during his time at CWU. In addition to having a 4.0 in his French major, being a respected McNair Scholar, and presenting his research at a prominent international conference, Joseph was also selected to be the only student speaker at CWU’s 2014 Honors Convocation.


Joseph O’Connor was the first in his family to attend graduate school. It was impossible to have known this from the poised manner in which he inhabited academic space. After Joseph left CWU, he attended Indiana University and completed an MA in 2016 in Second Language Studies with a 3.8 GPA. During that time, he gained experience teaching as an Associate Instructor in the English Language Improvement Program, and in the Intensive English Program. He also volunteered as an English and French tutor at that time. He went on to pursue a PhD in French Linguistics. Tragically, his untimely death prevented him from realizing his dream. Joseph belonged in academia and would have made significant contributions to his field.


By all accounts, Joseph was an equally extraordinary human being. He was a fine, humble person who was admired by his friends, classmates, students, and professors. At his graduate school memorial, he was remembered for his selflessness, warmth, and sense of humor. The Department of World Languages and Cultures was fortunate to have him among us. Please join us in honoring the memory of this lovely young man. Our hearts go out to his family and friends.


Link to Memorial Statment from: Indiana University - Department of French & Italian

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