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'She was all about absorbing life': Remembering UNC student Sally Sasz

Sally Sasz, 21, was a rising senior and Morehead-Cain scholar at UNC. Photo courtesy of Steve Sasz. Photo by Katherine Brooks.

Sally Sasz, a rising senior at UNC who always found beauty in the many people and places she encountered, passed away on July 6 while hiking in Utah at age 21. 

She is survived by her father and mother, Steve and Nancy Sasz, and younger sisters, Patsy and Lulu.

Her parents said Sally was an authentic and genuine soul who was growing into a beautiful young adult. 

“She just cared about people and she cared about moments,” Steve Sasz said. “And she worked really hard to make the moments that she shared really special.” 

Her mother said that she was always most interested in spending quality time with people and acquiring experiences, not possessions. 

The Sasz family, from left: parents, Steve and Nancy, and sisters, Patsy, Sally and Lulu. Photo by Katherine Brooks.

Friends remember Sally, who was a Morehead-Cain scholar, for being the “brightest light” and “effortlessly herself.” They said she exuded joy, kindness and confidence. 

“She approached every person with equal love and respect and a total absence of judgment,” said Sammy Ferris, a rising junior at UNC, who viewed Sally as a mentor, role model and friend.

Sally’s positivity and warmth had a welcoming presence on those around her, friends said.

“When you saw Sally, she would always make you feel so good just by being around her. And that's really special. Not many people can do that,” said Caroline Durante, a rising senior who knew Sally through their mutual involvement in Morehead-Cain, the Kappa Delta sorority and creative writing.

Friends said Sally approached each day as an adventure by seizing opportunities and pursuing her many passions.

Sally was an avid reader, beautiful writer and incredible artist, said close friend Cassie Drury, a rising senior at UNC. 

Sally with friend Cassie Drury. Photo courtesy of Cassie Drury.

Hiking, biking, cooking and painting were among her many hobbies.

From an early age, Sally was able to find joy in everything she did and turn what some may consider mundane or boring tasks into creative endeavors.

Her mother said that while some children are afraid to make art because they fear it won’t be good, Sally was always eager to experiment with different mediums and reconfigure her work if needed. She loved the freedom of playing with different materials, and also grew to love finding the meaning behind art, her mother said.

“Not only was she an amazing artist herself, but she loved to celebrate the art of everyone around her — and I think that's one of the many, many things that made Sally such a beautiful person was the way that she was able to appreciate and see the goodness and the talent and the joy in everyone around her,” said Ryan Benson, who knew Sally growing up and attended high school with her at Charlotte Country Day School.

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Sally (center) and her sisters, Patsy and Lulu, dressed up for the Napoleon Dynamite-themed prom the family threw for Patsy this spring. Photo courtesy of Steve Sasz.

At UNC, Sally majored in art history and English and minored in creative writing. 

Brianna Guthrie, a graduate teaching fellow in the art history department at the time, taught Sally as a sophomore in the course “Women in the Visual Arts II.” She said Sally dove right into the 400-level course as an engaged and vocal participant. Sally was one of the few students who learned her classmates’ names, Guthrie said.

Guthrie said she was so impressed by Sally that she talked to her adviser and said, “If you haven’t had this student, you should watch out for her” — something she said she has only done once in her roughly 10 years as a teacher. 

Friends said Sally completed her coursework with care and did exactly what needed to be done — and more. And although she was driven academically, she made time for the people and activities that mattered. 

To many on campus, Sally was known as “the girl on the bike,” who could be seen gliding through campus on her purple bike. But friends said she never hesitated to get off and walk to have a conversation with someone she knew.

In Chapel Hill, Drury said Sally enjoyed going to her favorite coffee shop, Bread & Butter, for coffee and scones, along with the public library and the farmers’ market. She also said Sally loved exploring the outdoors and discovering nooks and crannies that no one else knew about.  

“She was always, always doing something, never just sitting around,” said friend Jack Dewey, a rising junior at UNC. “And if she was, she was hard at work at something, but she would pause in an instant if she spotted a friend from across the room to call them over and catch up with them.”

Emily Galvin, a rising senior at UNC who lived with Sally for two years, said Sally also enjoyed evenings in, whether it was baking banana bread for her housemates, cooking her favorite Vietnamese food, having dance parties, reading a book or introducing friends to games she played with her family.

Sally sits with her 2018-2019 housemates (from left), Jona Bocari, Emily Galvin and Mollie Pepper, on the porch swing of their house in Chapel Hill. Photo courtesy of Emily Galvin.

Sally was actively involved in the UNC arts community. As chairperson of Art & Life, an after-school education program through the Campus Y, she designed lesson plans and taught art and art history to middle and high school students in Chapel Hill and Carrboro public schools.

She also served as an arts ambassador for Arts Everywhere and an art editor and art board member at the undergraduate literary magazine, “Cellar Door.” 

Sally shared her passion for music as a DJ for WXYC 89.3 FM this spring. The station management team compiled every song that she played during her time as a DJ and broadcast them on July 26 in her honor.

Sally also volunteered for The Sonder Market, a student-run local food cooperative, and played on the co-ed intramural basketball team, Phi Slamma Jamma.

“She just knew herself really well and what she wanted and what she loved,” Galvin said. “She didn't stress about feeling the need to polish her resume in a certain way, but at the same time poured so much energy into her accomplishments and was so passionate and intelligent and hardworking.”

Sally spread her creativity and artistry beyond UNC, as well. 

In the summer of 2018, Sally worked with students in public schools across New York City to create large-scale murals through her internship at Thrive Collective. 

For the past two summers, she worked at the Turner Carroll Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico where she curated and installed shows, wrote and designed exhibition catalogs and worked with top artists like Hung Liu and Judy Chicago. 

Tonya Turner Carroll said Sally worked on some of the gallery’s biggest projects. She said Sally was a creative thinker who was able to come up with new ideas and new things to say about artwork. 

“I trusted her with projects that I never had trusted another intern with, even most of my employees,” Turner Carroll said. 

Sally grasped opportunities and went out of her way to acquire new experiences. For example, Turner Carroll said Sally traveled to Oakland to assist a shipper in packaging one of Hung Liu’s paintings to send to a museum, to fulfill her wish of meeting the artist.

Friends said Sally thrived in Santa Fe. Dewey, a fellow Morehead-Cain scholar who became friends with Sally while he was working in Albuquerque, New Mexico last summer, said she seemed like a local after just being there a month. He said she knew all the cool places to see and go, and would have something to say about each art installation in the city.

While road tripping to Santa Fe, New Mexico, last summer, Sally stopped at the Cadillac Ranch — a public art installation in Texas. Photo courtesy of Steve Sasz.

“She was able to reach the top levels of the art world even though she was still so young,”  Turner Carroll said. “So she actually had achieved an art history career, even though her life ended so early.”

Turner Carroll said she plans to keep Sally’s voice in art history alive by continuing to share the exhibition catalogs and essays she wrote. An exhibition gallery room at the Turner Carroll gallery will also be named in honor of Sally, Turner Carroll said.

Friends said Sally inspired them to be more authentic, open and the biggest versions of themselves.

“I think she sought to live life very authentically and true to herself, true to her friends, true to her family — and just wanted to love the universe, and make it an amazing place, and touch it, and connect to it, and connect it to as many people and experiences,” Nancy Sasz said. “She was all about absorbing life.”