Graduation will be ‘tinged with sadness’ after student’s death, Harvard dean says

Nitin Nohria, dean of Harvard Business School, speaks about Nathan Bihlmaier, whose body was pulled from Portland Harbor, near Customs House Wharf, just before noon Tuesday, May 22, 2012.
Nitin Nohria, dean of Harvard Business School, speaks about Nathan Bihlmaier, whose body was pulled from Portland Harbor, near Customs House Wharf, just before noon Tuesday, May 22, 2012.
Posted May 22, 2012, at 4:14 p.m.
Nathan Bihlmaier and Nancy Ho Bihlmaier recently.
Portland Police Department
Nathan Bihlmaier and Nancy Ho Bihlmaier recently.

PORTLAND, Maine — The dean of the Harvard Business School said Tuesday the death of student Nathan Bihlmaier will cast a shadow over the school’s commencement activities this week.

Nitin Nohria told reporters in Portland on Tuesday afternoon, just two hours after Bihlmaier’s body was found by searchers in Casco Bay, the normally festive occasion will be bittersweet as the 31-year-old’s classmates mourn his loss.

“It’s a day that will now be forever tinged with sadness,” Nohria said.

Bihlmaier went missing early Sunday morning after being asked to leave Ri Ra Irish Pub on Commercial Street because he was visibly intoxicated, according to police reports. He had come to the Old Port with two friends, police said, to celebrate the coming graduation.

But after talking with Bihlmaier by cellphone around 12:15 a.m. to set up a meeting place, his friends weren’t able to locate him. They reported him missing at 9 a.m. Sunday, and divers found his body at 11:45 a.m. in Casco Bay on Tuesday after two days searching.

Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said investigators do not believe Bihlmaier fell victim to foul play, but they are still trying to piece together his final hours by using security camera footage from establishments along Commercial Street.

“We could not have expected or asked for anything more from the Portland community and police,” Nohria said Tuesday.

Harvard Business School’s top administrator called Bihlmaier “upstanding” and “widely regarded as a lively” and “gregarious” member of the school community. Nohria said the elite school will graduate about 900 in a Thursday ceremony featuring keynote speaker Fareed Zakaria, Time magazine editor and CNN personality.

“This is a tragic moment for our community,” Nohria said Tuesday. “We’re a tight-knit community preparing for a graduation. Nathan was supposed to be one of 900 receiving a diploma. We were all hoping this would be a day Nathan could celebrate. Instead, we are here trying to grasp this unspeakable tragedy.”

He said the school will likely memorialize Bihlmaier during Thursday’s events, but said Tuesday he doesn’t yet know what form that will take.

“We were proud to have Nate as a student at Harvard Business School,” Nohria said.

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