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Saturday, Dec 2, 2023

Remembering Thibault Lannoy ’20

“He had a unique spirit. There’s no one like him,” said Matt Ravichandran ’20, a close friend of Thibault’s who lived with him in Allen Hall his first year and played soccer with him.

Ravichandran was one of many friends, family and members of the college community who remembered Thibault as wildly passionate, spontaneous and contemplative.

Thibault attended the French International School of Hong Kong and then spent a year at the Berkshire School in western Massachusetts. At Middlebury, Thibault studied Physics and Chinese, played junior varsity soccer, joined Tavern social house and worked at the Bicentennial Hall observatory.

“During the year and a half that I knew Thibault, I was touched by his intellectual curiosity and his quiet enthusiasm,” said Jonathan Kemp, his observatory supervisor. “He often shared his other interests with me, from physics to food and farming, and those discussions were always engaging and enlightening.”

[pullquote speaker="Murt Afghan '20" photo="" align="center" background="on" border="all" shadow="on"]He was at peace in and around nature.[/pullquote]

This past summer, the observatory diversified the languages spoken there to accommodate Language School students. “Thibault was an important part of that effort,” Kemp said, recalling that he taught people about the stars in Mandarin and French.

When not gazing up at distant stars, Thibault was fascinated by the nature that surrounded him. “He was at peace in and around nature,” said his friend Murt Afghan ’20. “He loved Thoreau, which made sense.” Ravichandran and Afghan remember Thibault deciding to go hiking on a whim, and once, making them walk through the woods to McDonald’s only to come back empty-handed because it was closed. 

Alongside his job at the observatory, Thibault also interned at The Knoll. His supervisor there, Megan Brakeley ’06, remembers him fondly. “I was so grateful to have the summer at The Knoll to get to know Thibault — and a French World Cup Championship, no less,” she said.  She remembers Thibault trying to sneak away from the farm to watch France play.

Thibault and Brakeley’s conversations at The Knoll, working side by side for hours in the Vermont summer heat, ranged from the witty to the philosophical. “To start the season, Thibault was probably more comfortable digging into philosophical principles or European History than the soil, but as a deep questioner with a curious mind, he was quick to learn,” Brakeley said. 

“He wanted to be a farmer on the outskirts of France after this summer,” Ravichandran said. “He got so excited when he got fixated on an idea, and he’d say and do wild and spontaneous things when he was in that mood.” 

Thibault had a spark below his seemingly shy exterior. “He was so energetic. No one was as expressive in those moments as he was. He was wildly spontaneous when he would get into those fits, which only came every so often,” Ravichandran said. He recounted a time when they went to South Carolina, and Thibault became obsessed with learning the guitar. “He downloaded all these apps and everything,” Ravichandran said. “After that trip, I don’t think he ever touched a guitar again.”

Ravichandran and Afghan played junior varsity soccer with Thibault. “He was really good,” they said, a sentiment also shared by students he played against on the intramural level. His high school soccer coach once said that the team had one strategy — “Pass the ball to Thibault.” 

Thibault was in his element on the soccer field. “He had really good potential to be a leader, and he made the team more organized. He came into himself,” Afghan said. “He was much less reserved and more boisterous and talkative,” Ravichandran said. “He was also more expressive in what he wore. He would always wear a Barcelona jersey, and these black pants, and the original Mercurial cleats.”

“He had these tiny shin guards that were down around his ankles. They weren’t protecting anything,” Ravichandran recalled, as he and Afghan laughed together.

“He was a very funny guy, and I so admired his boldness to do goofy things no matter who saw,” said Kieran Parikh ’19, another friend of Thibault’s. He recounted a time Thibault bounced off the walls of Proctor, yelling “Parkour! Straight from ze streets of Paris!” 


“Come to think of it, I think he actually did that on more than one occasion,” Parikh said.

Ravichandran remembers doing homework in BiHall with Thibault one Saturday after having watched “I Origins,” a science fiction movie. They were talking about their theories of the universe. Thibault became invested in his theory. ‘We just have to figure out the math,’ he said. ‘We can drop out of college if this gets big enough.’ 

“It was ridiculous,” Ravichandran said, laughing.  

Afghan remembers a time when, after a few things had gone missing, he and Thibault convinced a resident of the Arabic House that someone else was living there, maybe in the attic. “Public Safety had to make sure that there was no one there,” Afghan said, laughing again.

“He was a fun and loyal friend, always ready to go to whatever party or event no matter who else might be going or how much work he might have had,” Parikh said.

Thibault joined Tavern after living there for a semester. “He was an integral part of that community,” said his friend Matt Ottomano ’20.

[pullquote speaker="Kieran Parikh ’19" photo="" align="center" background="on" border="all" shadow="on"]He was a fun and loyal friend, always ready to go to whatever party or event no matter who else might be going or how much work he might have had.[/pullquote]

Thibault’s memorial service took place in Mead Chapel last Friday. After an introduction by Reverend Andrew Nagy-Benson, several people spoke — President Laurie L. Patton, Brakeley, a family friend, his godmother and two of his friends. Those in attendance had time to quietly reflect as pictures of Thibault were projected on a screen onstage and music played. 

“He thought about things more than other people do, just about normal things,” Ravichandran said. “I think I do too, not to the same extent, but I think that’s why we became such close friends. He was a friend like no other.”

This idea was echoed throughout the memorial service and in private conservations about Thibault — Thibault thought about things, deeply. He was passionate. These were some of the reasons why his friends and family loved him so much.

In her speech, Patton talked about ways in which we can deal with death, noting that some turn to God, others to nature.  

“It is particularly hard when death was the person’s own decision,” Patton said. “We might feel stigma and isolation: is it okay to talk about this? How can I live with this loss when it feels different than other losses? We have mixed emotions; in addition to experiencing the absence that is suddenly in our lives, we might be struggling with guilt. Could we have done or said something differently that last time we saw Thibault? We might be feeling an intense need to understand why, and find it so hard to accept that there are some things that we might never know,” Patton said. 

She talked about her own last encounters with Thibault. After Thibault and another intern sent her flowers from The Knoll last summer, she emailed Thibault to thank him and ask for The Knoll’s visiting hours. Thibault sent a thoughtful and informative response, but Patton was away during the open days. Months later, at a Middlebury event in Hong Kong, Patton and Thibault spoke again, this time about philosophy, but their conversation was cut short. 

“And so I too struggled after I heard the news,” Patton said. “What if I had visited The Knoll? What if we had finished the conversation?”

It seems that many who knew Thibault have stories like Patton’s.

[pullquote speaker="Matt Ravichandran ’20" photo="" align="center" background="on" border="all" shadow="on"]My friendship was him was very unlike anyone else on this campus.[/pullquote]

“We cannot make sense of this profound, painful puzzle of Thibault’s death,” Patton continued. “But we can, I think, make sense of and tell each other about his life. Our work is to weave stories from the abundant evidence of his deep and abiding loves — the gifts that Thibault continues to give us. Our task is to carry forward his love for knowledge. And for teaching.” 

In every speech at the memorial service and in every conversation about Thibault, it became clearer how many people loved Thibault, and just how much.

“My friendship was him was very unlike anyone else on this campus,” Ravichandran said. 

“There are only a handful of people with whom I think I could sit and talk for hours, but Thibault was one of them,” Parikh said. “He was a brilliant person and a loyal friend who was, and remains, loved by many.”