J. Scott Van Der Meid | Tribute

In Memoriam: J. Scott Van Der Meid
Rainbow SIG Tribute

Although the year 2020 has unfolded with unimaginable scenarios impacting our personal and professional lives, none of us could have prepared for the loss of our beloved colleague and former Rainbow co-chair—J. Scott Van Der Meid.  He had only confided in a few friends and colleagues about his unexpected health challenge that emerged last winter so most of the field was caught off guard when news of his death came on July 31.  And, in true Scott fashion, he was bravely present until the end, thinking of his husband, Shinji, and his parents while sharing his last thoughts with friends.  In his farewell statement he wanted us to know that “networking and connecting people have been my passion and I was fortunate to be able to live my passion all around the world.  My belief that we are enriched by these relationships has been paramount in my personal life as well as my professional world.”

Former SIG co-chairs:  Left to Right,
Peter Kerrigan, Mark Lenhart, Kathleen Sideli, Kevin Morrison, J. Scott Van Der Meid, BJ Titus and Mark Beirn

So, today his Rainbow colleagues take this moment to remember his joy, his luminosity, his love of people, his dedication to students and his commitment to international education.  It was through his profession that he was able to share who he was with as many individuals in the world as he could reach—and there were many.  The statement put out by Brandeis University, where he served as associate dean of study abroad, recounts in detail how he successfully dedicated his career to helping get underrepresented students abroad.

For us in the Rainbow SIG, he arrived at his first SIG meeting in Washington, DC in 1998 with a refreshingly “out and proud” philosophy which was not necessarily the experience of older SIG members, particularly in their career and conference environments.  Who did not gravitate immediately towards his twinkling smile and cheerful laugh?  The SIG was still evolving in 1998 and our reception that year was in a bar that forgot we made a reservation and then served us chips and tuna salad!  It would take another five years until the SIG came of age and had a ‘real’ reception that became known as the place to be during the NAFSA conference.  Scott was actively involved in supporting then co-chair Kevin Morrison’s plan for hosting a big reception with sponsors, and open beyond SIG members, in order to celebrate the SIG’s 10th anniversary in 2003 in Salt Lake City.  Feather boas were happily part of the joyous occasion.

Scott became the co-chair of the SIG in 2005 and was interviewed on that occasion by Thomas Lavenir for the SIG newsletter.  He served alongside Jan Kieling, now retired from UC Berkeley, in 2005-06.  Jan remembers getting to know Scott during a study abroad site visit to Costa Rica and Cuba in 2002.  She fondly remembers being invited in recent years to dinner in Boston at the home he shared with his husband, Shinji Sato, who put out a delicious spread.  As she recounts, “Good food was a big deal for Scott, and I always got a kick out of his frequent Facebook “portraits” of epic meals from around the globe.”  She also commented that she and Scott “were from different generations, but he never made me feel like a geezette. Scott had a way of making everyone comfortable.”  Upon his death she also posted that “we shared our deepest secrets, cheered each other’s successes.  Scott was wise beyond his years.”  A newsletter from Jan’s and Scott’s co-chair year is available on-line, showing what the GLBT issues in international education were back then.  

Mark Lenhart, executive director of CET, who served as co-chair with Scott in 2006-07, said, “When I think back on the days when Scott and I were co-chairs of the Rainbow SIG, what I remember most was how welcoming Scott was. Not only to me, but also to all new members. I had only been “out” for about five years, and I was still getting used to wearing my new identity in professional settings. Scott instantly made me feel at home. He was encouraging, kind, welcoming, and funny. He often offered helpful suggestions over breakfast meetings, sharing his experience in ways that helped me navigate big NAFSA conferences. Over the years, his advice also helped CET evolve and become a better organization and partner to Brandeis. I learned so much from him.”  

Mark further commented, “From those early years until 2020, Scott was a dependable friend and partner who never once let me down. I’ll miss his friendship, his commitment to our field and the SIG, and the twinkle in his eye. Charles Shulz said, “In life, it’s not where you go, it’s who you travel with.” It was truly an honor to travel these roads with Scott, and I’m so grateful for our time together.”

Thomas Lavenir, Assistant Director at CGE at James Madison University and longtime SIG advisory board member, fondly remembers Scott with a few special photographs taken by Scott who considered photography more than just a hobby. He feels that this photo, taken at the National University of Singapore, communicates and reveals what Scott’s professional and personal philosophy was all about. 

In Thomas’ words, “He was a true global and people ambassador who was always on the go to better and strengthen the field of international education and promote inclusion… to the point where he did not take enough time for himself.”

Thomas thanks Scott for being a good friend, a strong role model and leader in the field of international education, and for inspiring us to come and work together to respect our world and planet. He also included this photo taken by Scott in Japan since he had a special attention for details, a skill he used to bring individuals together and to ensure that no one was left alone.

Former co-chair Peter Kerrigan wrote that, “Scott enjoyed nurturing and mentoring the next generation of international education professionals. Many of our colleagues benefited greatly from his knowledge and help.”  

Other SIG members, particularly those with fond memories of Scott, can join us in honoring his memory by donating to either of the scholarships established in his name—one at Brandeis and one established by his friends and colleagues for GLBTQ students, hosted by The Fund for Education Abroad. https://fundforeducationabroad.org/the-j-scott-van-der-meid-memorial-scholarship/ 

During this time when many of our global citizens are experiencing painful losses, Scott’s full and impactful life reminds us that we are never too young to leave behind an enduring legacy.  May we honor his memory by doing all that we can to generously embrace life, each other and the young generation that follows us.