A little over a week ago I was blessed with the opportunity to do something special in memoriam of Faith Hedgepeth, an American Indian UNC student who was taken from this Earth 18 months ago in a tragic way. One of Faith’s close friends asked me to take her senior portraits, but wanted me to also capture her holding Faith’s photo as well. I was honored to be asked to capture these photos, but honestly, this was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to photograph and it took all I had to not break down while snapping the photos at the Old Well. So many things ran through my mind at the time. Would my ideas work as I had pictured them? Would I do the photos justice? Would Faith’s family like them? Those are all questions that ran through my mind at the time, but thankfully, the answer to all of them was ‘yes.’
I never had the honor of meeting Faith per se. I had seen her in passing several times before, but I can’t say that I ever had the pleasure of saying ‘hi’ to her, which saddens me. Upon hearing of her death in 2012, I scrambled to find photos of Faith from events I had photographed at UNC. I sat at my computer for hours pulling photos off hard drives and combing through each one. I noticed her in the background of a couple photos I had taken just 2 weeks before at a welcome reception for students. I kicked myself for not getting more photos of her at that event. How did I not notice that she had arrived? She was such a beautiful young lady – I should have seen her talking with her classmates and smiling as always. Even though I missed out on the opportunity to capture Faith in photos during her time on Earth, I’m blessed to have had the opportunity to give these senior photos to those who loved her the most.
Even though I never officially met Faith, I feel like I know her so well. I’ve heard so many stories of her incredible personality – always smiling, always encouraging, always there for others. Without a doubt, Faith had a huge impact on everyone she met and even today she continues to influence others in a positive way. I can only pray that I have the same lasting impact on those that I encounter.
I had also never spoken to Faith’s family until after the below photos were posted to Facebook. I’ve seen family members at events, but I just didn’t feel right walking up to them as a stranger to talk to them about Faith. The last thing I wanted was to remind them of the pain they’re going through. I’ve chatted on Facebook with her sister many times over the last week though. I can see that they are still hurting, but I can see Faith’s love shining through them as well. I can’t imagine the pain they continue to go through with so much still left unknown. So I ask that you please continue to keep Faith’s family and friends in your prayers.
Mother’s Day has traditionally been graduation day at local universities, as is the case today at UNC-Chapel Hill. Faith would have graduated today with her fellow classmates. So Faith, this is for you our Angel. Even though you’re not graduating from UNC today with your classmates, you graduated 18 months ago to your Heavenly Home – a much bigger reward for a job well done.
Update: Thank you to ABC-11 (WTVD) and Tamara Gibbs for featuring this tribute to Faith and putting the case back into the spotlight once again. Click here to view their article and video.
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