In her application to Calvin's speech pathology graduate program, Tara Oskam wrote that she wanted to make a deep difference in the lives of others—that was her goal in life.
While the Calvin junior wrote this as a future aspiration, one need not look far to see the deep impact she had already made in her more than two years at Calvin.
Oskam, 21, died in a car accident on Saturday, March 11.
“She would’ve been a star here in our graduate program. She would’ve been an amazing speech pathologist,” said Judith Vander Woude, chair of Calvin's speech pathology and audiology program. “And I would have said that yesterday if this hadn’t happened.”
She’s remembered by her Calvin family as brilliant, hard working and kind; someone who was filled with joy, had a passion for serving others and who was creative. Her friends say she had a wicked sense of humor, was dedicated and diligent, and was simply amazing on every front.
But, what stood at the core in reflection after reflection—whether from roommates or classmates, fellow co-workers or professors, was her love for her savior, Jesus Christ.
"Tara was a light, and in this world that often seems dark, that light was loved. Her smile and spirit showed everyone around her how truly filled with joy she was,” said Kaitlyn Pastoor, a junior speech pathology major. “She had a passion for helping others and was a genuine example of what it means to have a servant's heart; determined to use her time here on Earth to glorify the Lord.”
“I love remembering all the times I would walk in a room to see her doing a task while singing and dancing to herself. Whether it was at home or on the job, she filled the world with light,” said Kayla Bosma who lived and worked with Oskam.
“Tara was a hardworking, bright, joyful member of our campus store family,” said Celia Lenger, manager of the campus store. “I will always remember her smile … . She brought joy to all of us whenever she was around.”
“It was a pleasure to have Tara as a student in three courses. She was an excellent student—a real star in her class,” said Brian Kreisman, a speech pathology and audiology professor at Calvin. “It was even more of an honor to have gotten to know her as a person. She was gentle, kind, considerate, respectful and had a genuine desire to serve others, through speech pathology, with the love of Jesus.”
“I am not alone in claiming her as a friend because she touched so many lives, connected so many people in large and small ways,” said junior Lena Hildebrand, a speech pathology major. "I've already had two classes filled with her absence, and there still hasn't been much to say. I don't know if it'll ever truly hit me that she's not coming back, but I know that there will be a permanent hole in this campus and in the world. So many of us know how privileged we were to call her 'friend.' Though we know that she is in the best place imaginable, we wish that we could have only had more time with her.”
It’s clear that Oskam’s life naturally reflected the love of Jesus Christ, but she also found ways at Calvin to intentionally lead others in their faith journey. During her freshman year, she took on the role of Barnabas on her residence hall floor.
“Her work in the program was marked by extreme dedication, sincere kindness and a recklessly gentle spirit,” said Michael Weller, who is a team leader in the Barnabas program. “Tara was passionate about helping others feel comfortable as they adjusted to life in the residence halls, as well as lifting them up spiritually through prayer, by facilitating a Bible study on her floor, and by leading worship services in the dorm basement. She was a living embodiment of the 'encourager' spirit of the Barnabas program, and she deeply impacted the lives of so many young men and women in her time spent working with us.”
One of those women who benefited from her leadership and friendship was Lara Tongue, who lived on Oskam’s floor freshman year.
“We would walk back to the dorm together after Phonetics (the long trek from DeVos required company!). She was an incredibly dedicated student, and I often went to her for guidance on our assignments,” said Tongue. “Not only that, but she led our dorm in worship, singing on Wednesday nights. She wrote a personalized note encouraging me to apply for dorm leadership at the end of freshman year, which meant a lot. She was tenderhearted like that. She clearly loved the Lord and her family, and I loved seeing her eyes light up when she talked about her sisters and their kids.”
On Monday, March 13, at a prayer service held during the college’s daily chapel time, Pastor Mary Hulst further emphasized what Tara’s life was all about. She relayed on words from Oskam’s boyfriend, Chad Beisel.
“[He] said to me yesterday, ‘if there’s one thing you say to people, say that it is I wish that they have a love in their lives like I had for Tara.’ And he said ‘we had that love because we shared a common love of our Jesus.’"
“It shaped them,” added Hulst.
And it clearly shaped the community of which she was a part. A legacy of love for Jesus Christ and those who bear his image is what remains.
“Though her light here on Earth has been extinguished, I can only imagine how gloriously she is shining now in heaven,” added Pastoor.
Memorial services will be held at 1 p.m. on Thursday, March 16 at First Byron Center Christian Reformed Church (8541 Byron Center Ave. SW). Visitation will be held on Wednesday, March 15, from 2-4 and 6-9 p.m. at Matthysse Kuiper DeGraaf Chapel in Kentwood (4646 Kalamazoo Ave. SE).
A formal memorial service for Tara Oskam will be held on Calvin’s campus in the coming weeks. More details to come.