Sophomore Elizabeth Gao dies after battle with brain cancer

March 9, 2013, 2:47 a.m.

Elizabeth Gao, 19, a sophomore, died Wednesday, March 6, at her home in Palo Alto after a yearlong battle with brain cancer.

Elizabeth Gao
Elizabeth Gao

A California native who was born at Stanford Hospital, Gao moved to Germany as a young child with her family. Upon returning to the United States, she attended high school at the Wheeler School in Providence, R.I., where she excelled academically. A finalist for the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program, Gao was also a 2011 National Merit Scholar and fulfilled a dream in being accepted to Stanford and matriculating with the class of 2015.

Gao spent her freshman year in Trancos and hoped to major in human biology.

Shortly after accepting a bid from the Delta Delta Delta sorority last spring, Gao was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor that required immediate surgery and forced her to take a leave of absence from Stanford.

Molly Mackinlay ’13 was a resident assistant in Trancos last year and said there was a lightness to Gao that drew people in, even after she began treatment.

“Going through chemotherapy is the most grueling thing anyone can experience, and her personality survived every bit of it,” Mackinlay said. “The way that her eyes would light up when she would talk about anything, and I mean she could talk about anything. She could talk about plastic bags and you’d be drawn in… to this beautiful person who was just passionate about everything.”

An obituary posted online remembered Gao, who was a member of the a cappella group Mixed Company, as someone who dedicated herself to her studies, mastering four languages, while earning respect from her friends as being outgoing and energetic.

“During her shortened stay with us, she deeply touched the lives and souls of those who loved her,” the obituary from Alta Mesa Funeral Home read. “She blessed those who knew her with her golden smile and unprejudiced love and friendship. Her presence in our lives is a gift we will always treasure.”

An anonymous comment on the same obituary remembered Gao for “the incredible light, happy, and joyous ambiance she carried with her everywhere.”

“I wish she was still here to share [her passion] with other people,” Mackinlay said, “but I think she’s inspired a lot of people to really go out and participate in life.”

Gao is survived by her parents, Joan and Huajian Gao; older brother, Jonathan Gao; and grandparents. Funeral services will be held at Alta Mesa Funeral Home on Sunday, March 11, and the family is planning to hold a memorial service at Memorial Church early next quarter.

This post will be updated.

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