Below, students close to Paul share thoughts on his life and what he meant to those around him.
To seek the truth:
Paul did not settle for cliché. He did not want an easy answer, and he was passionately invested in finding out what it meant to live a life with purpose — for God’s glory. I was his SMC this year, and a story I can tell you that illustrates this involves a deep conversation we had in the context of this relationship.
Paul came to my room one night in the beginning of the year, shyly asking if I could talk for a bit. I pounced at the opportunity because Paul had intrigued me — his strange and amazing dance moves and outbursts of ridiculous humor and energy combined with an otherwise fairly quiet personality seemed to draw me in. Through this conversation we had, Paul brought up a lot of questions he was having that I think every one of us at college have had at one point, if we are being honest. What is the purpose of us being here as full-time students, how will we be able to make a difference in the world, how do we fit into a larger context and narrative of God’s story with other people in the world, why do people have to still be racist in a day and age that is supposedly equal? His delivery of these questions was like a hurricane of intense pondering that all came out in a giant heap, which I could see his mind was furiously trying to wrap around and sort out.
However, I believe the reason they were so mixed and intertwined and confusing was because Paul was not one to simply try to leave the questions alone while accepting the status quo. Paul was hungry for more than answers like, “God has a plan,” or “Racism is only with deranged individuals – so don’t worry about them,” or “You’ll find your purpose with enough searching.” He had heard all these things already, and he knew any answer I would have tried to give him.
So I sat in silence, trying to think even deeper and deeper into what Paul was truthfully bringing to the table. He was bringing a more profound reality to the conversation: that life isn’t something to which we answer. Life is something that should answer to us as people of God.
Paul voraciously recognized that even though he had faith, he couldn’t just wait around to try to feel God — he couldn’t just accept his lot and be content with rolling with the punches. Yes, he was a very laidback person when it came to the small things, but he was thirsty to make a difference and have action in his faith and life by using what he knew to be true for the happiness of others.
This, I think, is where his dancing made a huge impact on peoples’ lives — because he was passionate about this gift God had given him, and I think he recognized the fact that using his passion was more important than passively waiting around for something to come along. He saw his faith in God as being one that was to be used for impacting others, and he channeled this through dance.
That first conversation I had with him, out of many, was profoundly impactful on how I viewed my role as a Christ-follower on a floor of men, and in the world in general. He made me realize that settling for simple answers was fruitless and that sometimes not answering tough questions is really important. A lot of people will talk about how funny he was, how amazing of a dancer he was and how infectious his positive attitude was. I agree wholeheartedly with all of these things.
However, I see Paul first and foremost as a passionate and committed son of Christ, who was not perfect and who had so many questions that he was relentlessly hurling at life. He represented the part of a lot of us that we try to push away, yet he embraced it as a completely transparent and honest man. He was broken and accepted it. And in that, he was a beautiful soul who sought forgiveness, sought active faith, sought to make life answer to him, rather than answer to the unanswerable questions that brokenness and sin force upon us.
Paul Lee was a true tribesman and brother in Christ.
-Carl Sallee, SPU sophomore and Paul’s student ministry coordinator
The day of the shooting was supposed to not only be a day of celebration but another moment that our Ante Up family joined together to fellowship and dance. Yes, Paul was an incredible student, but he was also so much more. He was a choreographer, a fellow dancer, a brother and a friend. They say that dance is an expression of the soul — and Paul’s soul was filled with passion and a love for the Lord. He graced us with his presence and light, and our club will never again be the same. He will continue to dance through our hearts, and each and every movement we make will be in tribute to him and his love for this art form.
This club’s community allowed us to know and dance beside an angel — and for this we are forever grateful. Paul’s humor was contagious, and the way he led and moved was flawless. The Lord’s love is the music within our soul, and Paul is within our hearts. Together, they will allow us to rise above this tragedy and create a song of agape love and victory. Dance is our release, therapy of the heart and mind, and a coping mechanism through our feet. We will use it to celebrate and to mourn … through trials and triumphs. Paul taught us that dance is not just a passion … it’s a way of life in which you lead by faith and not by sight.
So we will continue to dance for the Lord and dance for the lost. Dance for those who, if they dance, their lives will pay the cost. This universal language is not one to be obsolete, so let us move through life with a message and not defeat.
“Dance when you’re broken open. Dance if you’ve torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance when you’re perfectly free.” –Rumi #danceforpaul
-Ante Up (SPU hip-hop club)
Paul, I will never forget the times we spent together. You were always so encouraging to me when I would be feeling overwhelmed with classes. You’d smile, say some encouraging words, and give me a hug or a fist bump. You were always up for trying new things.
I remember the night that we had a deep conversation about the Lord and ended the conversation with, “Let’s play minigolf on the floor.” We then proceeded to play for a few hours. I remember playing and winning flag football with you and the rest of Fifth West Ashton during fall quarter. We would not have won without you.
I remember coming back late from studying and seeing you, on multiple occasions, with headphones in, dancing away in the Sixth Ashton study lounge. I remember you trying to teach me dance moves and me failing miserably because I am such a bad dancer. I remember driving you back to Seattle from Oregon after spring break. I still laugh that you made us stop for 30 minutes at a gas station, in the middle of nowhere, so that you could go to the bathroom and buy snacks and energy drinks.
Paul, what I am really trying to say is that you truly have impacted my life in great ways. I miss you, and it was not fair what happened to you — but I know I will see you again. You loved your friends and community, and I know that you would have the biggest smile on your face if you were physically here to see the SPU community now. Until I meet you again, keep on dancing for Jesus and save me a spot on the dance floor.
-Jordan Wagner, SPU sophomore and Paul’s floormate
It was 9 in the morning when I learned that Paul was the student who was shot and murdered. My heart plummeted in my chest. My lungs felt as though they were going to burst. I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t.
I met Paul during orientation; he was one of my first friends at SPU. I remember doing icebreakers with our uPod group the first day. One of the questions was, “What inanimate object would you be that starts with the first letter of your name?” When my turn came to answer, I said, “Jacuzzi.” Paul immediately replied, “I’d like to be in your Jacuzzi!” He winked playfully and relieved a bit of the tension. Oh, Paul. He was such a character. He made everyone around him smile and loosen up.
I admired how comfortable he was in his own skin. At the first “rave” during fall quarter, I was apprehensive about dancing with a room full of people I didn’t know. But when I found Paul, he made it so easy for me to let loose. Dancing alongside him was so fun! He was an incredible dancer. Whenever I ran out of awkward dances, he would teach me a new move. He had no reservations; he was lighthearted and buoyant.
In our USEM, his smile lit up the cold mornings as he joked with our professor, “Rodge.” His swagger made us laugh as he tardily waltzed into the room. Each class, he would sit by someone new and strike up a conversation. He always saw the best in people.
That’s what was really incredible about our class — we were exceptionally tight-knit. A few of us who were particularly close called ourselves “the family.” We would go to coffee together before class and hang out regularly. We could laugh together and cry together. We could goof off together and still get serious together.
There was an incredibly deep and complex side to Paul. I’ve never met anyone who saw the world like he did. Beneath the smile that everyone saw and loved, there was also a heart that endured through pain, as well as a mind full of wisdom and faith. There were so many times when I went to him and his roommate, Pat, for advice when I had none of my own. They were always there for me, no matter the circumstance.
One thing I cherish about our friendship was the way Paul made an effort to relate to the problems I was facing. I remember sitting in the Fifth West Lounge one night and talking… We talked about our pasts and about our current struggles. We talked about our dreams and our fears and how we’ve become whom we are. I will never forget the way he would wrap me up in one of his irreplaceable giant bear hugs when I needed comfort.
Paul, I want you to know that you were loved beyond belief, and there will forever be an absence in my heart that you once filled. You have moved this school, especially me, and I will never forget the memories you have left. I still cannot grasp the fact that you are gone. It destroys me seeing you on the news, your picture on Facebook, and hearing the story of your death over and over again. I love you and I miss you immensely. You will never be forgotten.
-Julia Bennett, SPU freshman
If there is one thing we can be sure of it is that Paul Lee loved to dance.
Rarely would you see him without his ear buds in, grooving to some music. But Paul didn’t always need his iPod to enjoy life—he could do that on his own. The first time I met Paul he was standing in my kitchen dancing by himself. Foregoing introductions, he pulled me over and asked me to dance with him. Bewildered, I informed him that there was no music. I’ll never forget his response: “we don’t need music, let’s just dance together, girl!”
What struck me the most about Paul was his ability to make everyone around him feel valued. The first few times we spoke he would repeat my name back to me, making sure not to forget it. He wanted each of his friends to know that they had his attention and care.
Paul was purposefully ridiculous. He would say and do crazy things just so that he could see the people around him laugh and smile. He wanted nothing more than to bring joy to people’s lives, and he succeeded in doing just that.
Paul was a beloved member of Fifth West Ashton’s “tribe.” He was known on his floor for his uplifting spirit and ever-present smile. He provided smiles, hugs and fist bumps to those who needed it. Without saying anything, Paul could brighten your day.
Paul was passionate about life. Although he did not yet know what career path to follow, he knew that he wanted to do something that brought him love and joy.
It is hard to imagine moving forward without Paul there to provide laughter and groovy dance moves—but we will. His family, friends, and members of 5th Ashton will keep his memory alive. If we can learn one thing from Paul, it is that we should dance often and show love to all. As his close friend Ethan Claggett so accurately put it: “God needed a dancing food critic, and I guess and He knew you were the one for the job.” You will be missed.
-Natalie Pimblett, SPU junior
Paul Lee was someone I would consider to be one-of-kind. I can honestly say that from the day I met him, I knew that we were going to be close friends due to his genuine and sincere personality. I could always count on him to make me laugh until I cried. Although he was under a lot of pressure from school and self-evaluation, the way he talked about his life was not negative or critical whatsoever. He taught me how let go, be true to myself and to not take the world too seriously. He taught me instead to laugh more and spend time with the people closest to me.
Paul was a young soul full of optimism and an outlook on life completely his own. He was very wise and asked the hard questions about faith that were not easy to answer. In one conversation I had with Paul, I asked him what he wanted to do with his life.
He thought for a moment and replied, “I want to live my life in the best way I can. I want to dance and eat great food and maybe even learn how to make movies about my journey.”
From that moment on, our friendship grew, and in a way, we went through the highs and lows of life together. He was more than just a person that I ran into at school from time to time. Paul was a light when the stresses of life almost seemed too much. He was the person that everyone went to when they wanted to celebrate their successes. I am so grateful for his friendship and even though I wish I could see that goofy grin on his face or hear his laughter reverberate through a room, I know that he is happier now, and I am sure that he is finally truly happy.
-Chloe Euzarraga, SPU junior
These reflections were compiled by the Falcon editorial staff, and contributed by friends and floormates of Paul.