Updated: Dec 17, 2021
Maybe in another life, we will meet again my dear friend.
I like to believe that every human being is a work of art. Their different experiences intricately woven together to create something completely unique, but beautiful in its own way.
My friend Hannah was a masterpiece.
Hannah was the first person in my life I’d met and thought “I want to be just like her.” It wasn’t only her radiant beauty, contagious smile and cute South African accent. It was her gentle confidence and the way she saw good in every person she crossed paths with. If everyone saw themselves through the eyes of Hannah, the world would be a much better place. She was a living, breathing example of the person I’d only dreamed of being at 15 years old. Someone who touched me so deeply in a short amount of time, and whose charisma for life continues to be an inspiration to me long after her tragic passing.
Fate played a role in us meeting through a friend of a friend. While both on a cultural exchange in a lively European city, we quickly bonded over our new found experiences, boys and shopping. The crazy boy talk was certainly the main catalyst for our friendship. I’d never had a friend like Hannah, someone who I could instantly be open and honest with about everything I was thinking and feeling. Being a small town Canadian girl, I’d grown up slowly compared to my new peers. I didn’t drink, or smoke and my sense of fashion was non-existent. I wanted to experience new ways of living but struggled to be open, while Hannah seemed to be an open book. She was effortlessly herself, so much so that she was able to look upon other people with compassion and understanding.
In just a few short months, Hannah had taught me many lessons by simply showing me the truest form of love; listening without judgement. I felt valued, and accepted by her open ear during our long life chats. Emotions can be scary, especially when you're a teenage girl in a foreign place. My frustrations, sadness, fear, extreme joy and excitement were 100% valid and appreciated by Hannah. “No shame” she’d say, and because of this I will always cherish those people in my life who are willing to dive into the deep end with me. Hannah taught me that to listen, is the greatest gift you can give a friend.
She led by example whether she knew it or not, people were naturally drawn to the bright light that radiated from within. She encouraged me to face my fears in a gentle and supportive way. Talking to boys was not my strength, but we’d made a pact to each have a European romance before we returned home. Hannah gracefully embraced this challenge and found hers right away. We gushed over the details of her seemingly perfect scenario during our lunch breaks at school. He even taught her how to drive his scooter! During the Easter break, she was rooting for me to come back with a “hot Italian stallion”, but no such luck. I’ll never forget her excitement when I told her about the boy who kissed me on the corner at 2am a few days before I flew home. “I’m so proud of you!!” she’d screamed over the phone.
It was a sad goodbye on the day we parted ways, little did I know that was the last time I’d see her. We continued on with our lives, sending the odd update but never forgetting the comfort that comes with meeting someone you feel like you’ve known forever.
On May 27, 2017 Hannah was abducted during the early hours of the morning while chatting with a friend in her car. She was gang raped, stabbed, and strangled before being thrown in a ditch. When I received the news I felt paralyzed. I sat in the same place for 9 hours riding the emotional waves of extreme rage and crippling grief that washed over me. I couldn’t make sense of how the most gentle of souls could be destined for such a horrific act of violence. It shook my faith in humanity, and love for the world.
As I sat there imagining how terrifying those last moments of her life must’ve been, Hannah taught me yet another lesson. That life is too short not to live for every moment of your existence. To not live everyday as though it could be your last. To go on the date, to chase your dreams, to do the things you fear most, and to treat everyone you encounter with respect and kindness.
Hannah lived an outrageously beautiful life. For being only 21 years old, she’d seen and accomplished so much, leaning into every experience. She’d reached out into the word, travelled on multiple continents and touched every person she’d met along the way. The uprising her death brought to the country of South Africa and the world, is an example of the impact she’d made on those who were lucky enough to know Hannah. She was truly one of a kind.
I’ve kept safe a bracelet she gifted me, telling me that “it means I’m always there with you.” I truly believe this. Whenever life seems hard and unfair, I think of Hannah’s warm smile. Today her light continues to shine through the founding of The Hannah Cornelius Foundation. Committed to carrying on Hannah’s caring, compassionate legacy in the community she held close to her heart, by showing love to those who need it most.