In a perfect world, Kali Albern ’17 would march across the stage at Allegheny College’s Commencement on May 13, happily accepting her bachelor’s degree as an art major.
Sadly, that won’t happen. Kali tragically died in August 2015 when she should have been preparing to return to campus for her junior year.
“Kali felt very connected to Allegheny,” says her mother, Sherri Albern. “She joined several clubs and had a lot of fun with the friends she made. When she was at the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Headache and Facial Pain Clinic and was asked what she wanted to be able to do with her life, she responded, ‘Go back to Allegheny.’ Her last posts talked about her desire to go back to school.”
Kali unexpectedly died while undergoing treatment for an intractable migraine (a migraine that doesn’t go away) that started in January 2015. “Two days after she transitioned, we got the results of a specialized EEG that showed that although her cerebral cortex was normal, some of the underlying brain structures were always ‘on,’” says her mother. “Her brain would never turn off and let her completely rest.”
To memorialize Kali and honor her work, the Alberns hosted an exhibition of her artwork at the public library in their hometown, Colorado Springs, Colorado, in November 2016. The exhibit included oil paintings, abstract photography and pencil drawings of people, fantasy and pets.
“We wanted to share Kali’s art,” her mother says. “Anyone who wanted a copy of any of the pieces was asked to donate to a charity of their choice. It was very gratifying to be able to show her art.”
While at Allegheny, Kali was known to have a sympathetic ear for all of her classmates who needed to talk about what was happening in their lives. In her obituary, it says: “Kali spent her life caring about people and helping others with their troubles and challenges. From preschool through high school she always went right up to new students and welcomed them with open arms. Even when she went to college and was not feeling well she was the go-to person for anyone with problems ranging from boyfriends or girlfriends to classroom work.”
Amara Geffen, Eila V. Bush Professor of Art, recalls Kali as a young woman committed to social justice. “I first met Kali when she enrolled in my FS 102 course in the second semester of her freshman year. The course, Vision and Activism, suited Kali’s sense of passion and purpose, and her keen ability to creatively critique cultural norms that she experienced as unjust and restrictive. Following the FS class, and through a series of studio art courses, Kali explored opportunities to integrate and hone her skills as an artist with her passion for social justice and equity. Watching these discoveries unfold for Kali was a gift she gave to us all,” Geffen said.
Classmate Emiranzala Kisyanto ’17 of Jakarta, Indonesia, remembers Kali as “stubborn in her beliefs, but that’s what made her charming. She was a wonderful person who I enjoyed spending time with, either watching some shows in her dorm room or hanging out with our other friends. Oh, she also would get pretty excited about the things she liked.”
Growing up, Kali did what most young girls do. She played soccer for several years. “She wasn’t much of a runner but she had fun loping down the field,” her mother recalls. She was in the Girl Scouts, enjoyed singing and learned to play several musical instruments in school. Most of all, she loved to read. “In elementary school, she’d literally walk down the hall with her nose in a book,” Sherri Albern says.
“Very early on, Kali was a talented artist,” her mother recalls. “She loved to draw and probably filled 20 or more sketchbooks. Art was her passion and a way to share her vision of the world.”
Kali decided to attend Allegheny after a campus visit that almost didn’t happen.
Says Sherri Albern: “She was looking for a small college where she’d feel like she would fit in. The east coast has a lot more choices in small, private schools than in Colorado. The phrase ‘a place where students with unusual combinations of interests, skills and talents excel’ really resonated with her. Despite that, when we did the family college tour we almost didn’t make the drive way out to western Pennsylvania. I’m sure glad we did because she loved Allegheny as soon as she got there.”
Kali used an alternate name on social media, Teyalora, and signed her art with a stylized “TL.”
Says Kali’s mother: “For those of us who knew her, these words embody her: artistic, authentic, caring, friend, individual, kind and loving.”