Nothing could have prepared the Caldwell family for Sept. 14, 2009. It was on this day that UW alumna Jennifer Caldwell lost her life in a traffic accident in Pretoria, South Africa.

Caldwell was a recipient of the prestigious Bonderman Fellowship following graduation and had chosen to stay in South Africa after her fellowship ended to help locally develop just and sustainable travel initiatives.

On a blog Caldwell used to document her travels, she wrote, "It's strange to start to learn about and care about politics in a country that I was determined to leave behind me a few months ago. It's addicting here; the more I get to know this country and the people, the more I am simultaneously frustrated, heartbroken and hopeful. What a strange mix of emotions!"

This was her last post. But, with help from her friends, her message has carried on.

After Caldwell passed away, family, friends, professors, students and recent alumni pitched in to make financial contributions. These contributions allowed for the official endowment of the Jennifer Caldwell Endowed Fund for Human Rights, available to UW undergraduate and gradute students pursuing work in issues such as fair trade and human rights.

One notable contributor was David Bonderman, the namesake of the fellowship Caldwell received. He pledged to donate half of the $25,000 needed on a matching basis.

Linda Caldwell, Caldwell's aunt, helped spearhead the fund and was personally inspired by Bonderman's contributions.

"[The donors'] wonderful attitudes and desire to make a positive difference on this planet have also inspired me and my husband to actively fundraise," she told the College of Arts & Sciences. "We're in it for the long haul."

The family of Caldwell knows that she was a lot of things, but Daniel Cadlwell, her brother and UW senior, said his sister will always be a "positive role model."

After all, that's exactly what Jennifer Caldwell vowed she would be for her younger brother.

"[Despite her distance], she still managed to offer me guidance every step of my way through school, and any chance she had, she would have personal days with me either shopping or just hanging out and getting coffee," Daniel Caldwell said. "After our mother died, she took it upon herself, and I quote her, that, 'If you need a positive role model, I would gladly be one for you.'"

Caldwell's father, Paul Caldwell, recalled that Jennifer was a very independent and intelligent kid since her early years, securing a top spot in her academic class ever since kindergarten.

"From about middle school, I could tell she had an itch to get out and do something big in the world, and she knew that she would have to do it on her own," he said.

Some of these big things happened within the realm of the university.

"How do you like your social justice? I like mine with sugar and cream," Jennifer Caldwell said in the closing of her column on fair-trade coffee, which ran in a 2005 issue of The Daily.

This was just the beginning of Caldwell's effort to get Tully's Coffee, which had a 10-year exclusive contract with the UW, to switch to 100 percent fair trade in all of their espresso drinks.

All the while, she juggled a leadership position with the UW Guatemala Project, raising $70,000 to support scholarships for kids who harvest coffee in Guatemala. Caldwell also extended a hand to the ASUW Committee Organizing Rape Education (CORE) group on campus.

Angelina Godoy, director of the UW Center for Human Rights, had a chance to work closely alongside Caldwell during her time at the UW.

Godoy first met her in a 100-student class on social theory in winter 2005, but it wasn't until she embarked on a summer study-abroad course to Guatemala that Godoy really started to get to know Caldwell.

"She was the sort of person who never rested, really pushing herself not only to get the most out of her education intellectually but to apply it through hard work, too," Godoy said. "So there are many things I admire about her, but certainly one of them is her commitment to really squeeze the most out of every opportunity. And for every benefit she received, every lesson learned or credit earned, to work that much harder on behalf of social justice in our world."

For Caldwell, helping people was a priority during her life.

"Hands down, she was a person for and of the people. All her goals and extracurricular activities were directed to helping others and fixing inequalities," Daniel Caldwell said. "The amazing part is that during all her endeavors, she still managed to have more fun than anyone else I know. She lived a colorful and fulfilling life and accomplished more in her short life than was necessary."

Not all of the color she's brought to campus has dissipated. With the Jennifer Caldwell Endowed Fund in Human Rights, Godoy believes there may be hope for a bright future and people like Jennifer to continue the advancement of human rights.

"I imagine there are other Jens out there today: people with tremendous talent to give the world and who are sometimes unable to carry out their projects for lack of funds," Godoy said. "The purpose of this fund is to help them carry out their dreams, as Jen did - to think big about what they want to do for human rights in the world, and then to plan a concrete, practical project to get there."

Reach reporter Colin Gorenstein at

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