Photo courtesy of Geoffrey Cheruiyot / Facebook
Recently graduated MTSU alumnus Geoffrey Cheruiyot died in the early morning hours of May 31 after being involved in a car crash in East Tennessee. The 23-year-old was a co-worker, an athlete and a friend among many MTSU students and faculty.
“He always had a smile on his face. He was very pleasant to be around, and that’s what made him good to work with,” said Dean Hayes, Cheruiyot’s track and field coach at MTSU.
Cheruiyot, a native of Eldoret, Kenya, began attending MTSU internationally as an avid runner for the track and field team and a public health major. He had graduated from MTSU with a Bachelor of Science in Community and Public Health in May.
Along with running for the track and field team, Cheruiyot also worked for MTSU Housing as a desk assistant at Rutledge Hall. His supervisor and a resident director for MTSU Housing, Katherine McCann, had known him for a couple of years when she was a resident assistant. After becoming his supervisor in 2017, she considered Cheruiyot a friend and reliable worker.
“He was an extremely reliable desk assistant with a really positive future,” McCann said. “He was so, so, so nice. (He) always went out of his way to compliment not only me but my colleagues (and) the other desk assistants … He was a very sharp (and) intelligent guy.”
McCann learned of Cheruiyot’s death after the housing secretary emailed McCann and her supervisors about the incident. McCann said that she thought it was better that she had learned of his death that way than finding out the details through later news reports.
“It was insane,” McCann said. “It didn’t feel real. I had just graduated undergrad in May, and I was in the same ceremony as Geoffrey. I remember seeing him walk across the stage, (and) I remember talking to him about it … It was surreal, really.”
As a desk assistant, Cheruiyot would manage the security of Rutledge Hall by greeting people and monitoring visitors at the building. Ladiah Thomas, an MTSU senior and journalism major, lives at Rutledge Hall. She met Cheruiyot while he was working at the desk and became friends with him.
“We just hung out outside of Rutledge,” Thomas said. “He would help me with whatever I needed.”
Thomas remembers Cheruiyot’s competitive spirit when it came to running track.
“He was running track,” Thomas said. “He would always be very happy when they won, but he always wanted to do better.”
Thomas was happy to talk with Cheruiyot because of his warm and uplifting personality. This was a character trait that was commonly brought up when speaking to those who knew him.
“Every time I saw him, he would just always be smiling and happy,” Thomas said. “(He) would ask me how I was doing and if I was okay.”
Dean Hayes was Cheruiyot’s coach during all four of the years that he ran for MTSU’s track and field team. Hayes recalls his first time meeting Cheruiyot when he came to MTSU as a freshman.
“He was very friendly, and he was willing to work,” Hayes said. “He had a good attitude, and he also was a good student.”
Hayes noted Cheruiyot’s willingness to “learn new things” after teaching him to run the steeplechase, an obstacle race involving jumping over hurdles followed by a leap and plunge into water. After much hard work, Cheruiyot was able to win the steeplechase for two consecutive years.
To Hayes, Cheruiyot was a champion on the team, but he was also a friend.
“He was one of our champions because he won the steeplechase two years in a row at the conference track meet, but he was also my friend,” Hayes said. “He was probably one of those (students) that I would have stayed in touch with over the years. Once in a while, you find one of those, and he probably was one of them.”
Cheruiyot took his education very seriously. The soon-to-be graduate had plans for attending graduate school at MTSU. McCann recalls her conversations about attending grad school at MTSU with him.
“He and I had talked a little bit about him going into grad school and how excited he was about that,” McCann said. “I remember (seeing) him multiple times sitting at the desk, studying (and) working on things … He was very much keen on multitasking.”
Hayes recognized Cheruiyot’s dedication to learning and, in particular, to his major.
“In Africa, health is a major issue because they have lots of diseases we don’t have,” Hayes said. “So, there’s lots of opportunity. He wanted to help people, he was very outgoing and he was a good leader.”
Cheruiyot was going to be Hayes’ graduate assistant for two years while he worked toward his master’s degree. His death had a profound impact on Hayes, the members of the track team and the Murfreesboro community. A memorial service was held in Murfreesboro for Cheruiyot on Sunday, June 3.
“When we had the memorial service … there was probably 150 people that came to that,” Hayes said. “So it’s obvious that he had a lot of friends. It really was a good ceremony while we were at it.”
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