Samuel Cadden knew he was meant to do big things. He had goals: Make his first million by the time he turned 25; become president of the United States and have a building named in his honor on the Clemson campus. Though Cadden’s life was tragically cut short by a car accident in 2015, his memory lives on.

So do his goals.

As his parents went through Cadden’s things after his death, they found a small list of big goals tucked into the crease of his Bible. The Caddens knew they wanted to do something to honor their son, and after reading Sam’s goal to impact others through faith, they knew that building a chapel on Clemson’s campus was the best way to honor his memory. With a donation of $1.5 million, the Caddens began the process to build a chapel, and the project is well on its way to reaching the $6 million needed for full funding.

Raising that much money is no easy task, which is why the Caddens and a few of Sam’s friends planned a weekend-long fundraiser earlier this spring. Aptly named Samapalooza, the March fundraiser featured a golf tournament, a downhill run and a concert, as well as a silent auction and raffle. The event successfully raised $30,000, but for those involved, the money was just a cherry on top of a perfect weekend to celebrate Sam.

It was almost as if he’d been there himself, they explain. As his friends Katherine Nahigian, Annalise Winters and Samantha Coburn announced winners of each raffle prize, they couldn’t believe what they were seeing: One by one, the randomly selected winning tickets belonged to one of Sam’s friends. “The people that kept getting chosen were just not a coincidence. That raffle was so rigged by Sam. He picked every name out of there,” said Nahigian.

Participants gather at the start line for a 5K race.

A 5K race was part of the weekend long Samapalooza fundraiser to honor the life of Clemson student Sam Cadden.
Image Credit: Provided

Sam’s presence was a highlight of the weekend. “There were so many ‘Sam moments,’” said Winters. “Just little things that would happen, and we’d be like, ‘Yeah, that’s Sam.’ He was looking down on us.” According to Winters, the grieving process for Sam has been uniquely difficult given the impact he had on her and those around her, but Samapalooza offered an opportunity to celebrate his life and reminisce on their happy memories.

Those who knew Sam are quick to praise his authenticity and effervescent personality, traits that he displayed to everyone, even if he’d never met you before. “If you were his best friend or if he didn’t know you, he could just light up your day. He always had a story to share,” said Winters. This passion for life and people is what makes the chapel such an appropriate dedication in his memory.

The chapel’s meaning extends beyond its namesake. The Caddens wish for the chapel is for it to be an inclusive place, an idea that goes beyond Sam. “A chapel has been wanted on this campus for over 25 years. There are over 600 students that have passed away while attending Clemson, and [the chapel] ties them all together,” said Nahigian.

Donors that support the chapel, no matter the name on the door, have been quick to lend their time or money to the cause. A little more than $2 million of the $6 million goal has been raised. It could take 25 more days or 25 more years to raise the rest; Nahigian, however, is confident it will be finished sooner rather than later, especially if she has anything to say about it.

Clemson senior Katherine Nahigian speaks into a microphone on the stage at Esso Club.

Clemson senior Katherine Nahigian thanks the crowd at Esso Club for supporting the Samapalooza fundraiser, which raised more than $30,000 for a chapel that will be named in honor of Clemson student Sam Cadden.
Image Credit: Provided

“If I’m involved, it won’t take 25 years. If someone told Sam he couldn’t do something, he’d say ‘watch me,’ so I’ve adopted his mentality throughout all of this. This all goes to show the power that one individual can hold,” she said. Event organizers hope that Samapalooza will be an annual event. Once the fundraising goal is completed for the chapel, the Caddens plan to direct any extra funds to the ClemsonLIFE program.

The Cadden Chapel will exist on Clemson’s campus as a welcoming space for any and all. While it serves Sam Cadden’s legacy as a friendly and loving person, it also represents those who have passed and offers a place of comfort for those still to come. Best of all, Sam’s goal to impact others through his faith will be realized, a fact that lends some relief to loved ones convinced it was supposed to end differently for him. If there’s one thing to be learned from Sam, it’s to cherish your time, his friends and family say.

“You never know who will leave your life and when they will, and it’s so easy to get wrapped up in daily life,” said Nahigian. “It’s important to cherish those that you love and tell them that you love them.”