Family members and close friends shared their memories of Dylan Simmons ’17 M.S. ’17 as they mourn his death. His passing has left an impact on several communities with which he identified, including disabled, queer and Asian communities.
Dylan passed away in a campus residence on Jan. 20. He was in his third year at Stanford Law School (SLS) and was set to graduate in the spring.
Family and early life
Dylan was adopted by his parents in Shanghai, China and was raised in Dallas, Texas. From a young age, his parents, who were both lawyers, instilled within him a love for traveling and Patsy Cline, according to his mother, Deborah Simmons.
Deborah described Dylan as inquisitive, courageous, loyal and strong-willed. One infamous tantrum in 1996 about whether 10 red M&Ms could be eaten before dinner lives on in his family’s history lore, according to Deborah.
But perhaps most importantly, Dylan was sincerely devoted to the idea of fairness.
“He felt like the treatment of marginalized groups, regardless of the political consequences, simply was not fair,” his mother said.
When Dylan was 12, he lost his father due to complications from Type 1 diabetes. His father had an unwavering commitment to social justice issues, according to Deborah — a commitment that Dylan carried with himself as well.
Deborah said that her son showed her it’s okay to be different. He didn’t want to start an argument over it, but he was unafraid of disagreeing with someone and saying that he saw things differently — something that was harder to do in parts of Texas, Deborah said, where there was a lot of conformity.
At Stanford, Dylan double majored in sociology and feminist, gender and sexuality studies. He also earned a master’s degree in community health and prevention in 2017. During these years, he developed a strong interest in his Chinese roots and studied Mandarin, according to his mother.
In his third year as an undergraduate, Dylan served as a Resident Assistant (RA) in Ng, then known as Humanities House, alongside his friend Truman Chen ’17 J.D. ’24. He served as an RA again the following year in the international themed cooperative house Hammarskjöld. Years later, Dylan helped Chen with the law school application process and encouraged him to put more of himself into the application, according to Chen.
“During that process, he seemed to remember everything in my life I told him about five years ago, and I found it remarkable that he cared to remember all those details,” Chen wrote.
It was also during college that Dylan began to question his gender identity assigned at birth. At 20 years old, he transitioned to Dylan Alexander. According to his mother, he made the decision not to change his legal name because he still wanted to exert ownership over that period of his life.
After graduating from Stanford in 2017, Dylan headed to China for a year to teach English at Shenyang University. Shortly after coming back to the U.S., he decided to return to Stanford to attend law school.
Time at Stanford Law School
Matthew Dimon J.D. ’22 met Dylan at SLS’s Admitted Students Weekend, and later became his roommate in law school. According to Dimon, Dylan represented all the best parts of Stanford: enthusiastic, quick-witted, brilliant.
“It was that moment that I decided to come to Stanford — it was already my top choice for law school, but Dylan cinched it for me,” Dimon wrote.
During his time at SLS, Dylan took Professor Rabia Belt’s course on disability law and later worked as a teaching assistant for the class. Dylan and Belt would cheer together when shy students spoke up in class, and he would send her articles on disability that she would incorporate into the course, according to Belt.
Professor Erik Jensen, who taught Dylan in his global poverty and law class two years ago, wrote that Dylan had extraordinary virtues, describing him as lively, creative and positive.
During the pandemic, Dylan lived at home with his mother in Texas for 18 months. They spent time cooking together and taking walks — time that Deborah is now incredibly grateful for, she said. Dylan and his mother hoped to travel to northern Europe after he took the bar exam. He also hoped to travel to Asia before starting work at Latham and Watkins’s Washington D.C. office in the fall, according to his mother.
Advocacy and activism
Dylan spent much of his time at SLS on advocacy efforts for marginalized groups, especially disabled and queer communities. Last year, he co-led the Disability and Mental Health Network at Stanford (DAMNS) alongside friends Leah Kennedy J.D. ’22 and Sam Becker J.D. ’22, and worked with law school administrators to improve accessibility. Because of the pandemic, the three were physically separated for much of their friendship, but they would stay after meetings on Zoom and bond over shared interests like cats and Steven Universe, according to Kennedy.
Kennedy said that Dylan opened up the disability space for her, helping her to navigate accommodations and to feel comfortable in her skin as someone owning that identity.
Becker echoed this sentiment: “Dylan gravitated towards welcoming into community instead of gatekeeping, even though he had more right to than anyone.”
Dylan also worked as a Community Developer at the Queer Resource Center on campus and lit the room up with joy, according to Co-Community Developer Adi Mukund M.D. ’22 Ph.D. ’22.
“Anytime he agreed with something or it caught his attention, he would say ‘Yo!’ and launch into the most enthusiastic tirade you’ve ever seen,” Mukund said. “All of a sudden you’d have to dampen the volume on your computer speaker because he would get so happy about it.”
Dylan also promoted equity in his position as a Diversity Co-Chair at the Stanford Law Review (SLR). Dylan significantly improved outreach during recruitment, according to current SLR President Daniel Khalessi ’13 J.D. ’22. He also led the Review’s efforts to be more targeted in its outreach to affinity groups and advocated for better accommodations for students with disabilities in the journal, according to SLR Diversity Co-Chair Jasmine Robinson J.D. ’22.
He also previously served as the President of the Asian Pacific Islander Law Student Association (APILSA) and the Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion at the Stanford Law Association.
Communities mourn his passing
As someone belonging to multiple marginalized identities, Dylan’s passing has been felt across several communities on campus. On Jan. 28, the APILSA held a Lunar New Year dinner, during which they took time to remember Dylan. Stanford OutLaw, the law school’s LGBTQ+ student association, also held a picnic in remembrance on Jan. 30, which had nearly 40 community members in attendance.
The transgender community was heavily impacted by Dylan’s passing. His passing is the second death of a transgender Stanford graduate student within a year. Mukund was friends with both Dylan and Rose Wong M.D. ’23, who died last year.
“On last year’s Trans Day of Remembrance, we thought about Rose,” Mukund said. “This year, we’ll think about Rose and Dylan. If the trans community could hang out in a way that didn’t involve the death of one of us, that would be really swell.”
Dylan’s passing has reminded Dimon of how important it is to take care of his mental health.
“As his close friend and roommate, I think I saw a side of Dylan that wasn’t apparent to many. I saw how much his responsibilities weighed on his mind,” Dimon wrote. “His passing has made me re-evaluate the things that I value, as well as the nature of achievement more generally.”
In a thank you card that Dylan sent to family and friends back home a few weeks ago, he wrote a quote that held significance to him.
“The most important thing about you is not the things you achieve; it’s the person you become.”
Support is available for students through Stanford’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) 24/7 at (650) 723-3785. The Graduate Life Office (GLO) is available 24/7 via the Stanford operator at (650) 723-7288, pager 25085 and during office hours at (650) 736-7078. The Bridge Peer Counseling Center offers counseling by trained students 24/7 at (650) 723-3392. The Faculty Staff Help Center, located in Kingscote Gardens, offers confidential help for Stanford faculty and staff.
The Stanford Law School has created an online space for people to share their remembrances of Dylan Simmons.
This article has been updated to remove Dylan Simmons’s dead name. The Daily regrets this error.