Friday, May 05, 2006
The Pleasanton Times  XML
email this
print this
reprint or license this

Teen's legacy remembered at library

By Maria Natale

Though the Pleasanton Public Library was nearly vacant on Sunday morning, Yuming Cao's footsteps did not echo through the building. He walked softly and deliberately along the tall bookcases, his arms wrapped around a box filled with his daughter's belongings.

Through the skylight, the sun's rays reflected off book covers and the frames of his glasses as he turned a corner, arriving in the teen services section of the library.

Yuming left the box on a nearby table and walked over to the display case. Reaching inside, his fingers traced the engraving on the plaque inside -- "Sharon Cao ... in her memory."

A small group of people gathered behind Yuming. It was silent except for the faint chatter of volunteers who were busy preparing for the upcoming book sale in the library meeting room.

"This time last year, we bought big bags of books at the book sale," said Sharon's mother Meihua Cao. "She did not get a chance to read them."

Fifteen-year-old Sharon Cao died in her sleep on June 12, 2005. Her cause of death was never determined.

The Foothill High School sophomore left behind her parents, younger sister Susan and friends who described Sharon as having a "vibrant spirit." Almost a year after Sharon's death, they gathered to create a display that would share with the community the girl they loved.

The glass display case was bought using gift money from the Sharon Cao Foundation, a memorial fund collected by the Chinese American Cooperation Council. Yuming said they chose to give about $3,000 to the library because of Sharon's love of reading and learning.

The moments she enjoyed most were when she had a warm drink and was sitting in bed reading, he said.

On Sunday morning, family and friends arranged in the display case a collection of Sharon's things that represent different aspects of her personality: Harry Potter books, her artwork and schoolwork, a Ping-Pong paddle, photos, CDs, a class T-shirt with her initials on one sleeve and a stuffed cow toy -- "Cow" was a nickname among friends. Meihua wiped away a tear as she watched Yuming place a photo of Sharon on the middle shelf.

"Hopefully people who see this will learn one thing about her that they didn't know before," said friend Spring Sun, a junior at Foothill who said she and Sharon "were essentially together 24/7." The items will be on display through June.

Teen Services Librarian Teresa Parham said she chose to purchase a display case for the teen area because it would be a long-lasting, visible and significant memorial to Sharon. It will be used to showcase student artwork or other displays to highlight the library's teen programs, she said.

"I think it's a good way to let everyone know how she touched our lives," said friend Wesley Hong, also a Foothill junior who met Sharon in journalism class. "There is something in her memory that will be used to educate other students and (encourage them) to pursue their dreams. She'd find a lot of joy in that."

With the remaining money, Parham will purchase books to Sharon's taste for the teen collection, including art books and fantasy and popular fiction novels. Memorial bookplates will be placed inside each book.

Though she excelled in math and science, Yuming said his daughter also liked to write. She dreamed of going to Stanford University to become a pediatrician. Sun said she and Sharon planned to take a road trip after graduating high school.

"(Her death) was a loss not only for the living, but a loss for Sharon herself," said Yuming. "She had a lot of dreams unfulfilled. In the night, everything was gone."

Sharon's loved ones are still finding ways to cope. Her parents said support from Sharon's friends and school community has helped them.

"Life after the loss of Sharon has been very tough for us," said Yuming. "There is not a single day we don't think of her. Her vibrant spirit still encourages the students, which is why we feel confident to do this."

By sharing Sharon's life with the community, family and friends hope other teens will be encouraged to pursue their dreams.

To add to the display, Sharon's friends are collecting letters written to or about Sharon that will be framed and hung next to the display case.

Also, a group of Foothill students created the Sharon Cao Scholarship Foundation at school and have been raising money for the gift that will be awarded next year, when Sharon would have been a senior.

Said Hong, "It will be like she's graduating with us in 2007."

Reach Maria Natale at