Mourners remember Kutler

By Allegra Tepper

Senior Brendan Kutler, 17, who died Dec. 29 on a family vacation in Hawaii, was remembered at his memorial service for his love of Japanese culture, his “eclectic and obscure” taste in music, his athletic prowess, and, as history teacher Dror Yaron described, his role in the classroom as an “intellectual mensch.”

St. Michael’s Church was packed past capacity on Jan. 10 for Kutler’s memorial service.

Speakers echoed eulogies by Kutler’s teachers, family, and friends onto Coldwater Canyon for those who couldn’t fit into the church. 

Kutler’s varsity tennis doubles partner Sean Kesluk ’09 told the audience about his devotion and support for his teammates while his dean Beth Slattery spoke of his genuine excitement when hearing he was nominated as Harvard-Westlake’s nominee for the Morehead-Cain Scholarship.

“If the sorrow in this room is a way to measure, then the meaning of Brendan’s life bursts forward, refusing to be confined by his 17 years,” Rabbi Emily Feigenson said.

Kutler is survived by his parents Jon and Sara and his sister Caroline.  Caroline told the audience that “to me, he was Just B.” The nickname was printed on bracelets given to attendees after the service.

“On Dec. 28, four of us joked with friends over dinner and a Hawaiian sunset,” Jon Kutler said. “And on Dec. 29, three of us woke up to a nightmare.”

Chaplain Father J. Young shared regret that he and those who knew Kutler would never know what he might become.  While both in the eulogies and in his own writing Kutler expressed an emphasis on the journey rather than the destination, the many paths that Kutler maintained in his life left behind an ambiguity about that destination.

When recently prompted what Kutler would be doing in 10 years, one friend joked, “He will have programmed multiple video games, thus being able to retire in an awesome house by the sea in California, which will not be a failed state anymore because he will have rescued it himself, before running his own obscure music record, Frankly RHB (Rest Hurts My Brain).”

Kutler once told science teacher Antonio Nassar that he did not want to limit his studies in college to just one major, but rather to combine his knowledge of multiple fields to create something really worthwhile.  Among those fields were astronomical research (he was a member of MIT’s Summer Science Program), Japanese-American diplomacy (knowledge he honed as one of 40 High School Diplomats at Princeton.


this summer), computer science, international indie music, and cinema.

At an upper school assembly held Jan. 4 to pay tribute to Kutler, Cinema Studies teacher Ted Walch read the college recommendation he wrote for Kutler, which recounted his confusion when an extra student began attending his Cinema Studies class last year. He later discovered that Kutler had been auditing the class without permission, having already reached his maximum of classes for the year. After Slattery and Walch turned a blind eye to the auditing, Kutler became what Walch termed the illegitimate child who set the bar for the rightful heirs, writing papers and taking exams for a class that did not appear on his transcript.  Walch spoke to a crowd of students and teachers wearing two baseball caps, a tribute to Kutler who was rarely seen without his signature accessories.

Co-founder and “resident Indie music mogul” of the entertainment and culture website, Kutler maintained a weekly music video blog, wrote reviews, and contributed to podcasts on the site. 

“Kutler had a different set of music for each of his friends,” Nick Mancall-Bitel ‘10 told the St. Michael’s audience. “He wanted to make them as happy as he was, so he played what they liked. I couldn’t find anything suitable for this occasion. Everything was too happy. It was also impossible to find a single song that didn’t bring a smile to my face, and I think that’s a good thing. There’s no reason his music should stop doing exactly what it did in life; he wanted to make people happy.”

In a group page created in Brendan’s memory on Facebook, countless posts refer to his ever-present smile, evident in the hundreds of photos posted by friends and family. 

Jon Kutler experienced a brush with mortality four years ago that caused him to retire in order to spend more time with his family.  With Brendan, that amounted to late night hot chocolate study breaks and trips to Diddy Riese, during which Brendan often sneaked his phone under the table to tweet to what students affectionately refer to as “The Twitter Family.”

“Only in coming so close to death did I truly appreciate the value of life,” Jon Kutler said. “It is an asset of infinite value yet one that we rarely reflect upon until it’s gone.”

In some of his recent works of writing, Kutler expressed a particular consonance with the Japanese proverb, “The infinite is in the finite of every instant.” Upon visiting a temple in Japan where he believed he truly became aware of the beauty of vitality, and wrote, “After my travels, I focus on living instead of existing–and life has blossomed.”  Kutler was also an avid photographer, for which reason an exhibition of his work was displayed in Feldman-Horn Gallery in the days following the service, featuring myriad photos of that beauty he discovered in Japan. 

This past weekend’s production of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” which deals with the themes of family, love, and mortality, was dedicated to Kutler’s memory. 

Kutler began attending Harvard-Westlake in the seventh grade after graduating from John Thomas Dye School. The JTD Class of 2004 held an event on the elementary school campus to remember their former classmate. 

In closing the memorial service for his son, Jon Kutler said, “The only solace we take is that Brendan loved the concept of connectivity. It was apparent in most things he did, whether computer programs, friendships, or philosophy. Recall that Brendan was of course right. Value relationships over material things, think big thoughts, and cherish the journey along the way. Or as Caroline would say, Just B.”