A young dogwood tree has been planted in front of the Center for Law and Justice in memory of Rutgers Law student Christina Cassidy, who would have graduated in 2018.
A memorial service with classmates and family members was held for Cassidy in early September, a year after she died after being struck by a car while crossing Route 21 in Newark. The tree and accompanying plaque are along the path students travel to walk into the building where Cassidy attended law school.
Cassidy, 25, was specializing in criminal law and law enforcement and had been an investigator with the FBI and at the Public Defender's Office in Washington, D.C. before she started law school.
The tree, native to and the state tree of Cassidy’s home state of Virginia, and plaque were donated by Rutgers Law School, but the memorial and ceremony were planned by Cassidy’s friends, specifically Jessy Leifer and Melanie Morales.
Leifer said she met Cassidy during law school orientation and got to know her during a three-hour tour of Newark led by then Dean of Students, Andrew Rothman. “We got to talking and it turns out we grew up about eight miles from each other in Loudoun County, Virginia,” Leifer recalled. “We had crossed paths many times but never actually met. That first weekend I wanted to go into the city and I texted everyone I had met so far. Most people said they were already studying, but Chris was up for it. We had a lot in common. We were in the same track our 1L year so we had all of the same classes and were friends with the same people.”
Cassidy’s parents, Kevin and Helen Cassidy, uncles, aunts, and grandfather attended the memorial ceremony along with law school administrators and friends. Many tied small white ribbons around the branches of the tree in honor of Cassidy.
When looking for a quote to inscribe on the memorial plaque, Leifer said they chose words that Cassidy had written in an essay that was shared by her mother. It says, “The important things in life are the people you meet along the way and the courage to take chances without the fear of mistakes.”
Cassidy was living in Newark at the time of her death, as Leifer said they had found an apartment in Newark near the law school and had just become roommates.
According to her published obituary, Cassidy was born in Georgia and moved to Virginia when she was in the third grade. She graduated from Loudoun County High School in 2009 and from the University of Pittsburgh in 2013 where she studied Psychology and Anthropology. While at Pitt she interned at the FBI and served on the Pitt Program Counsel. After graduating from Pitt, she returned to Virginia and worked as an intern investigator for the Public Defender’s Service in Washington, D.C. She had completed her first year of law school at the time of her death.
Cassidy was described by those who knew her as, “a great listener, witty, upbeat, and always smiling and encouraging.” She was close to her younger sister and a talented musician who played guitar, piano, and drums. She was skilled at videography and video editing and was an avid sports fan. Her family said her motivation for attending law school was to help people living in underprivileged neighborhoods.
Leifer said additional ribbons will be available at the front desk inside the Center for Law and Justice this fall for those who would like to add ribbons to the tree.
The dogwood tree will blossom in the spring and is in the plaza in front of the law school.