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About five years ago, Yiran Fan, MS ’15, asked three of his fellow University of Chicago students to stand in a perfect isosceles triangle. They were in the middle of a drama rehearsal—and this shape, Fan said, would better evoke the tension of the characters.

This memory was one of many shared during a January 14 candlelight vigil on campus held in honor of Fan, who died in a January 9 shooting. Just 30 years old, Fan was remembered as an exceptional student and collaborator—one whose skills and knowledge were sought after, even as a fourth-year PhD student who had yet to propose his dissertation.

But he was also so much more.

“Yiran had a romantic heart as well as a logical brain,” said Katie Tian, ’20, a former president of the Windmill Chinese Drama Club at UChicago. “He liked to express artistic presentation in mathematical terms.”

Fan came from China to the University in 2014 to study financial mathematics. He later enrolled in a joint program of the Booth School of Business and the Kenneth C. Griffin Department of Economics, but his interests also extended far beyond his academic studies. In the first email he ever sent to his drama club, Fan illustrated his deep knowledge of existentialism and the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. To his actors and fellow students, he was also a capable and patient director—albeit one who, Tian said, “was always too nice to criticize anyone.”

“Yiran had a romantic heart as well as a logical brain."

— Katie Tian, ’20

Fellow PhD student Lun Li remembered the passion with which Fan spoke, as well as his recognizable voice and his great sense of humor.

“He was always able to provide valuable advice to me when I needed it the most,” Li said.

Elsewhere on campus, Fan’s ability as a scholar and collaborator stood out to nearly everyone he encountered. Professor Lars Peter Hansen, who first met Fan six years ago, recalled the way that other students and researchers would gravitate toward him.

“As a teaching assistant, he really took it upon himself to make sure that he advanced the knowledge of the students. He was always available and anxious to make sure they learned,” said Hansen, a Nobel laureate in economics and David Rockefeller Distinguished Service Professor.

“My own research team would consult him freely when puzzled,” he continued. “When he took my classes, I would see students clustering around him after the class—not me—to better understand the ideas and concepts. He was the one to be trusted with his deep understanding.”

“When he took my classes, I would see students clustering around him after the class—not me—to better understand the ideas and concepts. He was the one to be trusted with his deep understanding.”

— Professor Lars Peter Hansen

That trust and respect was hard-earned. When he arrived at University of Chicago in 2014, Fan already held a bachelor’s degree in finance from Peking University and a master’s degree in financial engineering from the University of Cambridge.

After earning a master’s degree at University of Chicago, he served as a research professional at the Fama-Miller Center for Research in Finance. He had hoped to propose his doctoral dissertation later this year.

Zhiguo He, Fuji Bank and Heller Professor of Finance and Jeuck Faculty Fellow, remembered a dinner he once had with Fan in Chinatown, during which he talked about his personal life and his dream of gaining acceptance in a top PhD program.

Professor He recalled a saying that Fan loved to quote. “He told me once: ‘If you only give some effort, success is not necessarily guaranteed,’” He said. “‘But with great and sustained effort, something will eventually be achieved.’”

He added: “Yiran has been just a determined and perseverant fighter at almost every moment. May his talents continue to shine wherever his soul is now.”

Fan’s reputation spread even to those who did not have the pleasure of working with him.

“He was an extraordinary student and scholar,” said President Robert J. Zimmer, who said eminent scholars at the University had “remarked just how much [Fan] was able to accomplish and just how much potential he had.”

Fan “reflected the best and brightest of our community and enriched the lives of so many of us during his tenure here.”

— Provost Ka Yee C. Lee
Memorial of flowers, photos and messages

Provost Ka Yee C. Lee said Fan “reflected the best and brightest of our community and enriched the lives of so many of us during his tenure here.”

“Our hearts are heavy as we mourn a life cut short in a senseless act of gun violence,” Lee said. “To those of you who are fortunate enough to have known Yiran on campus, we are here to support you in this profoundly sad time.”

Lee ended her comments by speaking in Chinese directly to Fan’s father and mother, Chenggang Fan and Chunzhi Xu.

The vigil concluded with the playing of a song composed by Fan, and words from Maurice Charles, dean of Rockefeller Memorial Chapel.

In his closing comments, Charles extended his thoughts to Anthony Faulkner and Aisha Johnson, who along with Fan were victims killed in a citywide shooting spree on January 9.

“We blow out our candles,” Charles said, “confident that love can never be extinguished.”

This story was also published on the UChicago website.

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