It is with the greatest honor and deepest sadness that I have the grave responsibility to write what words cannot sufficiently describe, that is the legacy of the brilliant Sam Kossack. The Thomas Jefferson School of Law community recently lost one of its own, 2015 honor graduate Sam Kossack, who lost an unforgiving battle to depression. Sam was more than just the amalgamation of numerous awards, coveted externships and academic excellence, but a humble, enlightening, deep and witty thinker that always added value to any conversation. In short, Sam truly was a remarkable and sincere person.
Sam was destined for greatness as he engaged in meaningful thought both in and outside of the classroom vehemently advocating for social justice, often for the underrepresented. His yearning to give back was felt through many organizations at TJSL including CLIMB, La Raza, the Veterans Clinic, along with many others. Sam was passionate about his beliefs and on a daily basis he strived and succeeded in making a positive mark on the world.
His family that loved him dearly knew of Sam’s struggles and were extremely proud of the man Sam had become. The unimaginable sadness that a mother must feel cannot be described in any other words but her own:
“Our beautiful, brilliant, compassionate, funny beyond words, quirky, loving, unique, handsome, son Sam died last night. He had just graduated from law school and had met the love of his Life Evelyn Medina at law school last year. Sam had fought severe depression for years. He felt so tortured and his Dad and I had fought with everything we had to save him from his suffering. This morning at 7am authorities came by the house we all shared for all of Sam's life, and informed us of his death. The world lost a treasure beyond words. We lost a person who was a love of our lives, Sophie lost a brother she treasured and looked up to always, Randy lost a young man he loved like his own, Jim Fisher lost a best friend, many of my closest friends lost a being they cherished like their own and Evelyn lost someone she planned to live her entire life with. Devastated doesn't come close. We were and are so proud of our Son and are not holding back in allowing the truth about his suicide last night to be shared. Holding space for all the love we can receive.”
- Alice Kossack
Whether you came into brief contact with Sam or befriended him throughout his last years, you knew you were in the presence of someone special. The outpouring of support and compassion from the TJSL student body, faculty and staff joined together on top of the Entrada rooftop where Sam’s parents were consoled with stories of how Sam had touched so many lives.
The evening dusk sky was just starting to slowly fade as candles of remembrance illuminated the night. While holding back tears and with a trembling voice of a parent’s grief, Sam’s mother and father graciously shared some intimate words about Sam and the song they chose for Sam’s Shiva that represents the misunderstanding of suicide - Don Mclean’s “Vincent.” The lyrics of the song speak to the misunderstanding of depression and the tragic end that often ensues.
“Now I understand What you tried to say to me And how you suffered for your sanity And how you tried to set them free
They would not listen, they did not know how Perhaps they'll listen now
For they could not love you But still your love was true And when no hope was left in sight On that starry, starry night
You took your life, as lovers often do But I could've told you Vincent This world was never meant for One as beautiful as you”
Understandingly, it is difficult to put down into words what Sam meant to his friends. For some it was still too early to make those remarks as we all grieve in our own ways. Representing merely a fraction of all the support from his friends, here are just a few of their words of remembrance:
“Sam was passionate about teaching and changing the world. He was an advocate for others and a student-leader. He was a role model at Thomas Jefferson not only because of how bright he was but also because of how genuine he was. The student body admired and respected him – we all wanted to be him – a man who dominated the classroom with such ease and so effortlessly. His humility is a true testament of his greatness because he never wallowed in his achievements; rather, he served teaching assistant to us all when we needed him most. He will forever be missed!”
“You were the soul-baring type. Your wonder and darkness understood mine. I'd like to reminisce forever about the humor, the adventure, and everything else along the way, but I won't. There are enough tears. Goodbye, Sam, until we both reach the morning light. I miss you, Dudeseph.”
“Sam was just a genuinely caring person. For every La Raza Study Hall we would offer to help incoming 1L students, he was the first to volunteer. Deep inside he had that soul of a teacher, one that just naturally wanted to help. He was a brilliant person. He was an amazing human being. He was not just a friend, but a brother to me.”
"Sam was a wonderful friend. We had a lot of fun in law school. He was always laughing and could always ease my worries. He was a compassionate person who cared about people and the world. He is dearly missed."
“Sam always lit up a room whenever he walked in and always had such a calming demeanor whenever I engaged in any type of conversation with him. Sam had such a profound and confident light inside of him that shined whenever he spoke. He was always so positive and saw the good in anything we ever discussed. Sam’s passion to help people, particularly deprived people, was inspiring. His passion to want to change the world was the type of characteristic every person should have. Sam’s light will always be present and the memory of him will never be forgotten. Anyone that knew Sam was a fan of Sam. Sam was a great person who left his mark on this planet and is now in a better place and he will never be forgotten. Much love”
“Sam Kossack has left an indelible imprint on the lives of many. His energy, passion, and commitment to helping others through his position as a learning assistant or through his student organizations was constantly apparent. I hope Sam's brief presence with us reminds us of the importance of loving and helping others.”
“He had big plans and was the caliber of person that could make them come true. I envied and admired how smart he was and yet he always stayed so humble. I know his family friends and loved ones are all suffering a painful loss at this time and I give them my heartfelt condolences as I know they are grieving. He had so many friends that are in shock and sadness. Our prayers are with you and your family my friend.”
“Sam impacted the live of many people. Despite his own struggles he was always willing to help in any way he could. They say that nothing shines brighter than that of a good heart. That is exactly who Sam was - a good-hearted person. Sam will always be remembered through all of those who’s lives he touched. He will be remembered through his organization La Raza Law Students Association because he changed the live of its members just as much as the members changed his life. Rest in peace brother.”
Mr. and Mrs. Kossack were adamant about being candid with Sam’s suicide and depression. “When will we as a world understand that battling a mental illness is deserving of our deepest care and compassion as any debilitating or life threatening disease? The time is now.”
Thereafter on the following weekend friends gathered for the San Diego “Out of the Darkness” walk presented by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), which funds research, offers educational programs, and advocates for public policy and support for those affected by suicide.
Bringing awareness to depression in the law school and legal community is not a new phenomenon however, and unfortunately, it often takes a personable experience to appreciate the gravity of depression and the struggles endured by those going through it.
TJSL’s Professor Christensen devotes the entire last chapter of her book, “One L of a year - Maximizing Your Success in Law School” to Law School Stress and Depression. I would highly encourage everyone to take a moment and reread the informative and acutely accurate chapter as it underscores the significance of depressions, its glooming statistics, the signs to look for, and ways to try and treat or manage the illness.
We celebrate Sam’s life by taking the promise and potential Sam encompassed and incorporating his values into our lives to fulfill the goals of social and legal justice by living a humble and meaningful life as Sam did. The surreal loss is without measure a life-changing event that will forever cause us to be compassionate towards others and reevaluate our outlook on life.
Although you never would have known of Sam’s struggle by talking with him, we all know now how important depression awareness is. Despite his struggle Sam was always able to uplift, inspire and instill greatness.
One of Sam’s many encouraging Facebook quotes were as follows: “IT'S BAR TIME! Best of luck to my predecessors. You got this. Fury of mind, titanium spirit, fast fingers. You are unbreakable. And more than they will ever recognize. Roar.”
In conjunction with trying to bring awareness to Sam’s struggle and also to honor Sam’s name and legacy, a GoFundMe page has been setup for donations that will go towards a TJLS scholarship honoring Sam. You can visit the page and pledge support and leave comments at: https://www.gofundme.com/q56426k8
Thank you for taking a moment to remember and celebrate the life of Samuel E. Kossak, J.D., TJSL Class of 2015, Teacher, Brother, Son, Friend. May you be at peace.