PSU freshman dies after being struck by car

Last term, Sukhwant Jhaj assigned students in his freshman inquiry class a project that asked for a postcard with a picture and description of their most cherished object.

Jhaj did not know how much these cards would mean to him until this past week, when one of his students, Jocelyn Latka, passed away on Jan. 5 after being hit by a car in Southeast Portland.

Since then, Jhaj has carried her postcard, a picture of Latka’s flute, around with him.

“This flute, I suppose, is my favorite material possession,” Latka wrote on the postcard. “Although I am not a great musician, it has always been an interesting and fun challenge.”

Such words seem to describe the life of Jocelyn Latka.

“She was one of those rare people who are truly genuine,” said Mariah Miner McNeice, the mentor of Latka’s inquiry session.

McNeice said Latka was reserved – not because she was shy, but mostly because her maturity always allowed her to say something valuable when she did speak up.

“She always asked questions in class and gave honest answers,” McNeice said.

Born March 27, 1987, Latka was a Portland native. She graduated from Grant High School, started working at Movie Madness when she was 16 and began studying Japanese and music at Portland State this past fall.

“I have changed so much in the past few years,” Latka wrote on the postcard, “in part, because music has become such an important part of my life.”

Yet college brought more to Latka than a love for music. After trying to sign up for the freshman inquiry Forbidden Knowledge class, but being unable to enroll, Latka ended up in Jahj’s Design and Society class, which opened her to new experiences and passions.

“She came into the class after she couldn’t get into a different one,” Jhaj said, “but she absolutely loved it.”

He said that Latka became very excited about the projects and work they did in the class, even though the architectural emphasis was not something her career would have likely required, and was looking forward to future projects this term. He said the enthusiasm she had for the class and learning new things was similar to the potential he feels for all students.

“As a professor, you have a sense, especially for freshman, of potential,” he said. He said the hardest part of this situation is the loss of that potential.

Latka’s uniqueness, maturity and relaxed nature were a testament to the level of potential she had already fulfilled.

“She is the quintessential Portland girl,” McNeice said, remembering how she always saw Latka around campus with her “really cool bike.”

Since her death, both Jhaj and McNeice have been taking time and doing their best to help Latka’s classmates deal with the situation. Jhaj said that an adviser from Counseling and Psychological Services spoke to the students during the first class after the accident happened, and told them what resources are available on campus.

Jhaj is not sure whether or not the class will do anything in memory of Latka, but is leaving the option open for the students to decide.

“We might build something, we might not; however they want to deal with it,” Jhaj said. “It brings up a lot of emotions to students. Stresses before will be a lot more pronounced. “

McNeice’s understanding of the students’ feelings is that of regret.

“What I’m hearing from the students is that they are sad they didn’t get to know her better,” she said, emphasizing the importance of getting to know one another.

The people who did get to know her can always remember the great growth and maturity that Latka was able to experience in her short life.

“The relationship with my instrument is an excellent reflection of my growth as a person and it definitely says a lot about my interests,” Latka wrote on the postcard.

Her ability to mature and grow as a person, through both her music and life, has left an ever-present impact on those close to her and the Portland community.

“Once, she asked me what I wanted to do with my life, and because of who she was, I felt like I could answer her honestly. She really gave me something. She really validated me,” McNeice said.


At the end of the postcard, Latka gave a simple explanation of why her flute is her most cherished possession: “In conclusion, I like it a lot.”