Arielle Aney (‘20): In the Words of Those Who Knew Her

The Spectator Editorial Board shares the heartfelt words of those who knew alumna Arielle Aney (‘20), who recently passed away from colorectal cancer.

Reading Time: 15 minutes

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By Phoebe Buckwalter

In the challenging process of covering the loss of an integral member of the Stuyvesant community, The Spectator Editorial Board has been humbled by the devastating grief and powerful love for Arielle that we have borne witness to over these past few weeks. No one on the Editorial Board ever had the chance to meet Arielle, but we have been trying our hardest to get to know the incredible young woman that she was from afar. We felt that our coverage of Arielle’s life would be entirely incomplete without the words of those who knew and loved Arielle. From her coaches to closest friends to school acquaintances, Arielle’s unbelievable impact on the members of the Stuyvesant community was—and continues to be—a force of nature, just like Arielle herself.

“Arielle joining the swim team was the best thing that ever happened to us. She was an incredible athlete. She was so strong, and she practiced so hard. She paid attention to every detail so that she could be the best that she could be, and she never took shortcuts. Arielle didn’t know how to give less than 100 percent in everything she did. Being around her motivated everyone to want to do and be better. Her work ethic was truly inspirational. Among her many awards, she was recognized as Rookie of the Year, [as] MVP for the next two seasons, [was] the Francine Schnarr Memorial Award recipient for Outstanding Senior Swimmer in the PSAL, was named a New York 1 Scholar Athlete, and holds three Stuyvesant High School relay records. Arielle was so modest and humble that you would never guess how talented she was. She always tried to deflect attention away from herself and would place the focus on team goals and accomplishments. She always put the team first, even if that meant swimming four events even if they were back-to-back and even if they weren’t her specialties. We relied on her heavily and there was so much pressure on her to win her races in the big meets, but she never complained and always accepted our expectations with grace and humility. Arielle always made time for her team. I can still see her sitting by the edge of lane six after practices, helping her teammates with their starts and turns, and giving them advice on how to swim their races. While soft-spoken, everyone respected what she had to say because of how she conducted herself as an athlete and as a friend. Arielle was someone who always put others ahead of herself. She was someone that you could always count on—really count on. She put everyone around her at ease. She was gentle, and unassuming, and had a calming presence. She was funny without realizing it, and she was really, really kind. What set her apart was her kindness, her compassion, and how much she truly cared about others. Arielle had a reserved presence that commanded respect, but she also had a smile that could light up a room. I will miss her smile very much and I will carry her spirit with me throughout my life. I am so blessed to have been her coach.” —Silvana Choy, Stuyvesant’s Girls Swimming and Diving Team coach and physical education teacher 

“I'll start with when I first met Arielle, since our first moment with one another really is the perfect representation of our friendship. We were both out-of-state students taking the SHSAT in August and had just left the building after the grueling testing hours. She spotted me from afar, noticing my Gravity Falls T-shirt from a distance, and came up to me [of] her own accord to ask about it. When I first heard her speak, I found her quiet, but her ability to come up to me about my shirt like it was nothing stuck with me, and we proceeded to talk about the kinds of things I normally kept to myself during middle school: our love of cartoons, anime, art and animation, and I realized upon our first meeting that I was never going to meet anyone as knowledgeable of the world of anime as Arielle Aney. We were so caught up in our conversation that I didn’t even catch her name, and as our mothers urged us to end the conversation and go home, I thought that that single moment would be all the knowledge I’d have of her; I mean, what were the chances that we would both get into Stuyvesant? Of course, to my pleasant surprise, I noticed her in my French class on the first day of school, and we gravitated to each other like it was the most natural thing in the world. She introduced to me to all sorts of things, such as animes I had never watched, like Revolutionary Girl Utena and Mob Psycho 100, cool AMVs on YouTube like Lone Digger with Mob Psycho scenes, and even the Love Live Rhythm game, a game at which, to this day, I have yet to catch up to her skill level. We were two peas in a pod, sharing things no one else could match our passion for, and through Arielle I learned just how okay it is to be yourself. She gave me a safe space to rant about all the things I loved, and in turn I was a person she could share all her wonderful knowledge and humorous sketches with, so inspiring with their beauty and detail that they urged me to get better at drawing myself. We would sketch together in French class, and through the years I learned so much from her, both about working hard while making progress one step at a time, as well how to be humble but confident in who I was, something she herself never compromised on. Her talents amazed me, but she never rubbed them in my face. She was strong and beautiful both inside and out, a fantastic swimmer and amazing artist, with an adorable but spot-on accent when she spoke French and the most fascinating questions in biology. Throughout our time at Stuyvesant, she was someone I could always count on to listen to me when I needed an ear, lean on when I needed support, or laugh with when I had no one else who understood. She was one of the most wonderful people I have ever known, and the fact that I got to be a part of her life feels like a brief but beautiful miracle. I am honored to have known her, to have memories with her that at one time seemed so small in the grand scheme of things but now feel like precious jewels on a necklace that I will wear forever. To all the people reading this who knew her, I’m sure you know what I mean when I say this, so may I say one thing more: cherish those memories of her, remember who she was, and learn from the person that she always held herself to be. Her strength, her spirit, her love of life and appreciation for everything around her is something each of us can learn from. So, learn from Arielle Aney. That way, through all of us who strive to be like her a little bit each day, she'll never be forgotten.” —Corinne Pita (‘20)

“Arielle and I are from the same neighborhood, [and] we both went to PS9 for elementary school before reuniting at Stuyvesant. Her loss is felt throughout the whole Upper West Side community. I remember at PS9 wishing I was as smart and confident as she was in elementary school. She always was a kind person, and was so talented and passionate about drawing and animation. Whenever I talked to her, I always felt truly heard. Even though she was unable to attend college in-person, she was always interested in how me and my friends were doing. I miss chatting with her in my group chat with other Stuyvesant alumni about our lives and experiences. I miss her a lot, and she won’t be forgotten.” —Claire Tempelman (‘20)

“Arielle, you were one of the kindest, most accepting people I met during my time at Stuy; you never let the pressure cooker of academic stressors provoke you into cruelty. You embodied humanitarianism, as no matter where you were, your salt-of-the-earth nature would make anyone feel at ease, leaving them with a more positive outlook [on] the world. Your creativity was also inspiring. I remembered how you loved to sketch. It’s hard to forget; you were constantly drawing. It was refreshing to see a Stuy student indulge in their creative gifts so freely. I also loved that I was able to practice both my French and Japanese with you, even though I made so many grammar mistakes in 日本語. But you encouraged me, and it’s a cumulation of little things like that that you do for people that creates immense impact over the communities that have had the pleasure of knowing you. Rest in peace, girl! I’m missing you lots.” —Laura Ilioaei ('19)

“Though I went to elementary school with Arielle, I only came to know her in high school at Stuy, when we were always hanging out in the same friend group and took French together. But my favorite memory, which is very distinct in my mind, is spending time with Arielle on Long Island. We stayed over at a friend’s house for a few days one summer, along with another good friend, and one night, the four of us played Cards Against Humanity until very late (at least 1:00 a.m.). At some point, we found a white card that set us cackling: ‘Throwing grapes at a man until he loses touch with reality.’ For some reason, in that moment, that was the funniest thing we had ever seen. We proceeded to match it with every prompt/black card in the deck, and somehow every pairing was hilarious. To this day, that white card is my favorite one, and whenever I play CAH I remember that night and how much fun we had. I think if I take anything from that memory regarding Arielle as a person, it’s that she was great at having fun and goofing around. Her sense of humor was always apparent, and she could always find something funny to laugh about with friends. I will always cherish that memory (and that card).” —Cecilia Bachana (‘20)

“I can picture the summer of 2021 so clearly—the rhythmic rustling of the summer wind brushing the trees, the sun shining so strongly that any movement at all was exhausting. We sat together on a white and red checkered picnic blanket watching bikers and runners fight their way up the Central Park Loop’s scariest hill. You sat with your legs bent to the side, resting one arm gently on the ground. Every few minutes, you brushed your shoulder length brown hair out of your face and smiled. I rearranged my [position] constantly, often electing to lay down on the blanket and stare up at the clouds. The clouds made us wonder about shapes—why did I see a hedgehog and you saw a character you had been sketching from Utena? I guess we’ll never know. But we pondered nonetheless. I told you stories about the friends that you missed at swim and about how we started swim tryouts for school in the middle of August with a new coach. I listened to you talk about your family, the anime you were watching, and your remembrances of the Stuy experience. Even as you underwent chemotherapy, you looked forward to everything that was to come and were so grateful for everyone in your life. We watched happily as little kids clung tightly to the tire swing in the nearby park and marveled at the bikers who zoomed up the steep hill across from us. You dug your hands into the grassy lawn, pulling up exactly one blade of grass. We observed it carefully and I watched as you peeled it in half and then let it get blown away by the wind.” —Eliza Knapp (‘22)

“I remember when I met Arielle for the first time [at] swim team tryouts freshman year. She was fast, but not crazy fast. Sophomore year, she was crazy fast. Seeing how hard [she] work[ed] and how much she improved in the span of one year was inspiring to all of us. Even at the most important meets of the season, she would be smiling behind the blocks (though she later confided that she smiles when she’s nervous); Arielle’s optimistic spirit was proof that being positive makes you swim fast. Despite being the fastest person on the team in many events, she was humble and prioritized the team. She would cheer passionately for others and give everyone the biggest high-fives at the end of meets. Her actions as both a role model and a teammate pulled me out of my swimming low sophomore year. Arielle was also very inquisitive and would get excited about the details around her. When we walked into Terry’s, she would [listen] closely to the background music and try to identify it. She would perk up at the sight of a pretty little flower in Battery Park (behind Stuy). Even when she had to take medical leave from college, she was still excited to hear about my classes and asked questions about the research I was doing. I feel warm and fuzzy when I remember her humming to an anime song on the walk to the subway or telling me ‘good job’ with a big smile on her face. Arielle's graciousness and cheerfulness have left a permanent mark on me and will continue to inspire.” —Melbourne Tang (‘20)

“I don’t know how to write eulogies. That is an oversimplification. It is not that I’m incapable of writing something resembling remembrance. I’ve been going over how I would write this for days at this point, writing down how it would be outlined, how it would work conceptually. A greeting. The sympathies. The remembering of fond anecdotes, the reassurance that she wouldn’t want us to be sad, that she would want us to live, and a goodbye. The framework for a perfect memorial, existing in my head as I go over it again and again as I try to live my day, go about my classes and exams and conversations with friends. It only exists in my head. I wish now I could put down what I had in my head, something that could be written that eased all grief in whoever saw it. But that’s not possible. It remains in my head. Arielle is still here, when I think of her, every memory remaining in my head as crystal clear as they were the moment they were made. I had first met her when I joined the girl’s swimming and diving team as a freshman, and she was a sophomore. She was one of the first girls there [whose] name I was able to remember; I was never good with names, but the irony of her being a swimmer and having a name that sounded like the Little Mermaid was enough for her to begin to stand out in my eyes. And she never gave a reason not to stand out. She was an incredible swimmer; that was the first thing I noticed. And being with her longer, I saw her incredible art skill; funky little anime guys who would dance around in the margins of her notebooks. And I saw who she was as a person: kind, bright-eyed, enthusiastic about the right things when you got through to her. I remember being at swim meets for the team, and the both of us getting yelled at for goofing around on the slippery deck with something that could only be described as an arm wrestling match, except without the table underneath you to keep you stable. Just you and the other person, going as hard as you possibly could without anything to ground you, without any worries that you might slip and fall and land face-first onto the hard tile, or maybe into the pool and in the way of others racing. I remember talking to her on Messenger, her referencing Avatar: The Last Airbender and joking with friends without a care in the world. I remember chilling out in front of the pool entrance playing some mobile gacha game while she’d ask me how it was going, since all we could do was wait. All we could do was wait. All we could have done was wait. We never would have thought anything like this would be coming, not even four years later. We were supposed to be too young to die. Too young to think about it. We were supposed to be guaranteed happy, healthy lives for the rest of however long our bodies could take it. Apparently, it sometimes wasn’t enough. I looked through Arielle’s social media accounts to try and kickstart this process. Look for some spark of inspiration that could help me write down what I had in my head, every glowing memory that I had of her. I checked my Messenger: it said she had been active only 26 minutes ago. And part of me felt excited, even when I knew better, that it would have just been her parents on her social media account, posting memorials and announcing when the funeral would be. But it felt like she could have still been there, going to college and going on with the rest of what her life could be. It feels the same looking through our DMs on Instagram, and seeing her last message to me. It’s nothing of weight. In fact, it’s almost [comically] trivial. Just me sending a picture of my dogs to her, and her saying that they looked lovely even in their old age. It feels like I could send another message, and she would respond. I know she wouldn’t. But that’s the thing about the [Internet]. It immortalizes her. She lives forever in the digital world, even as I [lie] in bed and I try and figure out how I translate all of this to the analog form, of words that can’t change the fact that she is not here to see them, that she is dead. She is dead. She is dead. I didn’t want to admit those words to myself the moment I heard the news from a friend. She is dead. I wanted her to be alive. I wanted it to be a strange dream that I could wake up from and comment about the dreariness of it before I continued with life. She is dead. I don’t want to be writing a memorial. I don’t want to write a eulogy. I don’t want her to be remembered because I want her to be here instead, I do not want to have to translate her legacy because I wish she was here to continue to leave it, I do not want to mourn for her, I do not want her to be dead. But she is dead. And we must remember her.” —Chrisabella Javier (‘21)

“I first met Arielle in AP Physics, and we shared a locker at the senior bar throughout my senior year. Arielle was a sweet and shy girl [whom] I often relied on for help. I know that she loved swimming and drawing, and she was always eager to show me what she was currently working on. When we graduated I would still see her drawings from time to time on my Instagram page and I was glad knowing that her love for art [hadn’t] changed one bit. [Though] I only met Arielle my senior year, her influence has undoubtedly had its effects on me and her friends. I’ve seen how amazing and kind [a] person she was and I am filled with regret that I haven’t kept in touch after graduation. It is hard writing about Arielle in the past tense, and it is difficult to process that she’s no longer with us. [Though] I am grieving, I can’t imagine the pain her family is going through. I hope that my words will help people realize that we have lost a remarkable and irreplaceable human being and [that you should] reach out to friends and family whenever you can.” —Alex Lin (‘20)

“Whenever I think back to my best memories at Stuy, they are from when I was on the Penguins with Arielle. Her kind heart and dedication made us a better team. It was a privilege to share a lane with her.” —Maddie Wong (‘18)

“She had a quiet confidence in herself and others that showed that she truly loved swimming and all the discipline that came with it. She never once complained or let herself get distracted.” —anonymous alum

“While we had only shared one class together, I could only remember the brilliant and hardworking and kind student she was. She also inspired others with her talent as a [swimmer]/athlete—I always thought she was so cool and perfect in every way. I am incredibly saddened that the world has lost a special soul, but I know that she is now in a better place.” —anonymous alum (‘19)

“I never really had a proper conversation with her—but she did say hi back on the first day of chem[istry] despite not knowing who I was. And she kept saying hi every class after that. She seemed to be a genuinely kind person and I wish I did get to know her better then.” —anonymous alum

“A beautiful soul. May she rest in peace.” —Veronika (‘20)