1. Education

Eckerd College student critically injured in campus accident just before graduation

ST. PETERSBURG — An Eckerd College student fell from a ladder on campus in the hours before her graduation ceremony and remained hospitalized Wednesday with head injuries.

Chicago native Rebecca Ryan Lavin-Burgher, known as Becca on campus and RyRy to loved ones, was set to graduate with a sociology degree at Sunday morning's commencement.

Instead, emergency services were called to Bininger Theater at 5:27 a.m. Preliminary reports indicate that Lavin-Burgher fell from a ladder inside the building, St. Petersburg police spokeswoman Sandra Bentil said.

"It was an accident," Bentil said.

Most students had already left campus for the summer, and those who remained were largely seniors awaiting their final day of celebration.

"It's just absolutely heartbreaking," said dean of faculty Suzan Harrison. "I have to admit it is very difficult to think of anything else, even though commencement is a joyful occasion for most of the other students here."

Lavin-Burgher, whose 22nd birthday is Thursday, remains at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, a nurse there said.

Professors, administrators and students have been visiting Lavin-Burgher, the dean said. One told Harrison that Lavin-Burgher is "a star."

"She was described by her faculty as just having a wonderful vivacious personality, very bright and enthusiastic about her studies," Harrison said.

She has a full circle of friends, Harrison said, and was described as the first female DJ to perform at the campus's South Beach.

Lavin-Burgher's family and friends have set up a GoFundMe account, which exceeded its $10,000 goal in less than a day.

"The brightest sparkle, all those who met or knew of RyRy, knew what a profound impact she had on the world around her," the account said. "She lived for her people; her friends, her family, her community. … Her mothers and sister appreciate the humbling support they have received from all of the beautiful and powerful communities of which Rebecca was a part."

An update posted by her sister, Sarah Lavin, on Wednesday thanked donors for their overwhelming contributions: "It speaks to Rebecca's infectious joy and the light she spread as she pranced through the world."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Claire McNeill at or (727) 893-8321.