Sean Wu’s life celebrated with mural in Honors Center

A group of friends have worked for years to establish a mural in honor of Sean Wu, a UI student who died in 2017. On May 1, after being postponed a year because of the pandemic, the mural was unveiled on the third floor of the Blank Honors Center at the University of Iowa.


Photo of the Sean Wu mural. Contributed.

Jenna Post and Josie Fischels

On the third floor of the Blank Honors Center on the University of Iowa campus now hangs a mural honoring the life and spirit of Sean “Scooter” Wu.

Wu died on April 8, 2017 at age 18. Immediately after, the weight of his passing was felt by everyone his vibrant life had touched, including his close friend, Addie Bushnell, who later became the driving force to establish a mural in Wu’s memory. 

Editor’s note: Bushnell is a former Daily Iowan reporter.

At the mural unveiling on May Day, postponed a year because of the pandemic, Bushnell spoke along with Wu’s twin brother, Austin Wu, and Honors Program Director Art Spisak to a small crowd of close friends, family of Wu, and UI administration.

“After Sean’s passing, I think there was a very clear need within our group of friends to cement his presence in our lives and in his community,” Bushnell said at the ceremony. “Sean was an incredibly present and active person, and after he was gone it was very hard to imagine life without him, or at least without a reminder of what he meant and means to us.”

Donations for the mural’s original Kickstarter campaign in 2017 exceeded the goal of $1,500 in just two days. Overall, $4,181 from 62 donors was raised. However, Bushnell said because of city guidelines that prohibit murals on downtown businesses for individuals not affiliated with the business, Bushnell and friends working to establish the mural had to turn to other options.

Along the way, they found local artist Sara Montgomery, who channeled Wu’s love for music, film, and creativity to create the vibrant mural. The piece depicts Sean, backpack-clad, traveling on a scooter along a film strip, following the path into a multicolored horizon. Overhead, books soar like birds among the painted clouds. 

RELATED: Kickstarter campaign keeps memory of Sean Wu alive through art

Wu’s twin brother, Austin Wu, said that the mural reminds him of the finer details of his late brother. 

“I think one thing that is nice is that it kind of locks it in,” Wu said. “Now that it’s been more than four years since his passing, you do forget some of the minutiae. Some of his individual interests, his personal aesthetic, how he dressed, that kind of thing. I think, of course, that’s just part of human memory. That as time passes on, you tend to remember things more in a broad sense.”

Wu said that Sean’s family and friends all had input on the mural’s design and collaborated on the final product. From there, Montgomery designed the mural on her laptop so she could easily revise after receiving feedback. 

This was Montgomery’s first time creating a painting in memoriam. She said the design was a challenge for her, but said she feels that the painting ultimately delivered on what Wu’s family and friends hoped for.

The group also found the Honors Center to be the perfect place to host the mural. With a skywalk on the third floor connecting the center directly to Daum Residence Hall, where Wu lived his freshman year. 

Spisak said the mural was intentionally placed where it wouldn’t go unnoticed. The painting is accompanied by a plaque that tells Sean’s story.

“He is representative of honors students,” Spisak said. “It’s good that we have that picture there, so he can be commemorated and so that other honors can students see and be inspired by him.”

Following his death, Wu’s parents created the Sean Wu Scholarship, which aims to help students overcome hurdles that hinder their education. 

At the time of his death, Wu was pursuing a business degree with the intention of having a career in buying and distributing films. Wu had a blog where he reviewed hundreds of films and was a member of the Bijou Film Board.

Wu was highly motivated, graduating high school as valedictorian in 2016 and completing the required 12 semester hours of honors programs within his first semester, all while making the fall 2016 Dean’s List. He made lasting impressions on those around him and made many friends during his year at the UI.

At the end of the ceremony, Austin Wu finished his speech by calling on friends and family to fill their minds with memories. 

“With all of this in mind, I call upon all of us today to think about ourselves a little less today and Sean a bit more,” he said.