Jeff Hall first saw Ryan Donaghy in band class in eighth grade, and Hall believed his new acquaintance had hardly any trombone skills.
Hall crossed the band room and asked him if he could play "Yankee Doodle."
Donaghy, a seventh grader at the time, stood up to Hall, an eighth grader, and performed the simple song in a refined technique that left Hall floored.
"He had such a great sound and played the song with such musical expression, while I just knew the positions and made faces when I played," Hall said.
Donaghy died Saturday at age 22, and those who knew him remember his passion, talent and unrivaled sense of humor – exactly what Hall saw in the band room that day.
"The trombone was an extension of his body, so anything he could think up in his head, he could perform it just as quickly on his trombone," Hall, a music education senior, said.
Donaghy, who enjoyed watching Curb Your Enthusiasm, had mastered juggling and back flips, was learning Chinese and was especially known for being delightfully crass.
"He was a constant source of smiles," his stepfather, Jude Lasserre, said. "He knew he could always rely on those he loved."
To his friends, Donaghy will be remembered as an individual who was curious by nature.
"Worse case scenario: He was a little annoying with his prying, but in the end the other person gained a little insight about themselves, and that’s all he wanted to do," Hall said.
And for some family members, Donaghy would always be the child who knew all the trivia about The Beatles, the child who wanted to be a professional clown one second and a conductor the next, Lassere said.
And he would also be known for his trust of his peers, Lasserre said.
"He believed in keeping an open mind; he wasn’t gullible but believed everything from the people he trusted," Lasserre said. "I guess that’s why he always lost his keys, his wallet, his car -†things weren’t important, only his friends."
He also dabbled in a stand-up comedy routine in which Donaghy would take any subject matter into his act and nothing was taboo, Hall said.
Even in the private moments of his two-month relationship with media production sophomore Yin-Hsuan Chiu, Donaghy’s unconventional humor came out.
"On our second date, we walked on West Alabama away from the Chocolate Bar, and we just talked for what seemed hours," Chiu said. "When we finally arrived at a convenience store, I asked him to buy me some coconut ice cream. He bought me a coconut and a quart of strawberry cheesecake instead."
Aside from his abiding sense of humor, Donaghy was known for being a critical and analytical person who sought as much information as he could get.
Donaghy would ask constant questions about different subjects and never settle with simple answers – especially regarding religion and existence.
"He was always questioning our existence and life on this earth," music education senior Ogechi Ukazu said. "I don’t think he ever found out a satisfying answer, but he was fine with that."
But even when tackling complicated issues about human values, Donaghy added his personal comedic touch, said Ukazu, who played the trombone with Donaghy.
"He made up this Facebook group called ‘The Ogechification of the World’ and then one about the universe, but it was really touching; it was a pseudo-religion (named) after me, but it was hilarious and absurd and a little thought provoking," Ukazu said.
Donaghy also took with him a personal approach when it came to the spiritual side of his own life.
"’Take the best; leave the rest,’ that’s what Ryan believed," Lasserre said. "He knew he had the choice in what to believe in what, and knew he wasn’t going to be trapped in any walls."
With graduation in May, Donaghy hoped to travel to San Francisco and continue studying Zen Buddhism.
He also had hopes of becoming a Buddhist priest, Hall said.
Buddhism served as an instrument of peace for Donaghy, helping him get a more centered perspective on the world, Hall said.
"He always had to be doing something, and he could never stand still; it was the opposite thing when he mediated," Hall said. "He would sit still, and he would contemplate why he thought what he thought about everything and would become aware of the inherent fallacies in this thought process. Because of that, he would suffer less than others."
And while Donaghy could have been seen as a relentless and dynamic ball of energy, he was constantly questioning and seeking out the truth about everything -†even within his own life, his father, Robert Donaghy, said.
"I’m not sure if he ever found the answers he was looking for, but he was searching," he said.