Linda was a cheerful happy girl who always brought warmth and sunshine to her friends and family. She was a kind spirit, genuinely cared about her friends and always eager to lend a helping hand. She was a glue and organizer among her group of friends. She was full of kindness and empathy. She was full of life with her contagious laugh. She was passionate about many things, art, music and writing.
Her interest in arts, music and writing began at an early age and started to blossom in high school. She was an avid reader, borrowed bags of books from our local library each week. She loved music and played piano since very young age and was an honor student in Hoff Barthelson music school. She was a gifted writer, a recipient of numerous honors and awards at the school, regional and national levels including a Scholastic gold medal in poetry in 2018 and a Claudia Ann Seaman Award for Fiction in 2019. She was an alumnus of several major national workshops for young writers including the highly selective and prestigious Iowa Young Writers Studio and the Kenyon Young Writers Workshop.
In addition to her wide range of academic interests, she also developed a strong sense of community, social responsibility and public good beginning from her sophomore year at Greeley. She worked at the Chappaqua Library as a student volunteer, and later as a paid page until graduation often assuming a leadership role for various programs from drawing classes to cooking activities. She dedicated many of her Saturdays as a volunteer piano teacher at a local charity music program for less privileged children. In 2019, she traveled to a remote rural area in China to teach English, art and music to elementary school kids there.
Realizing the world was facing mounting problems: air pollution, plastic wastes accumulation, deforestation, extreme weather and global warming, she felt the urgency to act. She adopted a “zero waste” and plastics-free lifestyle. She advocated for the reduction of plastic usage whenever she could. She started a campaign at Horace Greeley, with the support of her friends, to replace bottled water with locally sourced water that contained no plastics in the school cafeteria. She participated in environment-related forums and created Youtube videos to help people to live sustainably.
However, she was saddened, as she wrote in her open letter to the New York Times, “despite what we all know, the world still considers environmentalism to be something noble, something additional, rather than something necessary”. She felt lonely not having anyone understanding her for ”being the only one who sees the world for what it really is: a train wreck waiting to happen” if there were no drastic changes in how we live. Yet “it is all of us, slack-jawed at our screens, choosing what is easy over what is right.” She no longer wanted to be “reciting poetry even as the world is burning”.
On July 18, 2020 at 4:48 am, Linda ended her own life. Before her passing, she wrote an open letter and scheduled it to be emailed to the New York Times on the morning of July 19. When facing her lifeless body, our world crumbled into pieces. Why did this happen? We asked this question thousand times. When we went through her writings, we started to see things through her eyes and gain understanding of her passion.
To us, she was always our little princess. We wanted her to have a good life, to have a good job and happy family. However, these nice things in life alone didn’t fulfill her. Atypical for an 18 year old, she gave a lot of thoughts about her life, the meaning of life itself and the fulfillment of life. She had strong sense of social responsibility and set a grand goal to do something good for humanity. A responsibility she took so wholeheartedly upon herself that she carried it with full determination. A goal that was too heavy for an 18 year old.
It was Linda’s sincere hope that her voice would be heard and her story would inspire more people to take action to save our planet so that future generations can have a beautiful and sustainable place to call home.
As her parents, we are determined to carry on her wish. The proceeds of the Linda J. Zhang Memorial Fund for the Environment will be used to support innovative environmental initiatives of students and charitable environmental organizations across the country.
Here is one of Linda's YouTube videos on sustainability: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4KHYrPbc1I