Family and friends of Giselle Ayala gathered in the University Union Plaza on Monday to remember the life of the deceased sociology freshman, who died in Santa Barbara more than a week ago.
During the memorial, which began as the sun set over campus, speakers described Ayala as a kindhearted “giver” — the kind of person who always wanted to help those in need.
Ayala’s childhood friend and animal science freshman Megan Elcombe recounted memories of growing up with Ayala in Santa Rosa, when they would hang out at their siblings’ soccer games, or later on when they were in dance classes together and Elcombe was too scared to talk to the other dancers.
“When you’re little, and you’re looking around at everyone around you, it never crosses your mind that there is going to be a day when they are not there … I wish we could just go back,” Elcombe said. “She was always the person that I could look up to. She would always be the one to come over and make me feel like I wasn’t so alone. She would make me feel safe.”
Elcombe’s description was echoed throughout her fellow speakers: Vice President of Student Affairs Keith Humphrey said Ayala “changed lives” during her time at Cal Poly; College of Liberal Arts Dean Douglas Epperson called her an “engaged member of the community.”
“We only had the opportunity to have her in our community for a couple of quarters, but in that time, it is clear to me that she touched many people,” Epperson said. “Our loss today is great, and our sorrow is heavy, but it’s even worse for her family and lifelong friends. So as we deal with our sorrow, and as we remember her in our hearts, please join me in offering our deepest condolences to her family.”
Only a few members of Ayala’s family were present at the vigil (both an aunt and a cousin briefly spoke), but her parents still managed to thank the assembled crowd for their support through a letter read by Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) President Katie Morrow.
“We have received so many outpourings of love from so many people that we remain in awe of how her life positively impacted people, both in the U.S. and abroad,” read a visibly upset Morrow. “We always knew she was a positive life force on earth, and your messages and thoughts just remind us how far her love, her friendship and her caring nature have extended.”
The most emotional speaker of the night however, came in the form of one of Ayala’s Cal Poly friends, graphic communication freshman Amanda Peterson. Peterson, who met Ayala while living in the Yosemite Residence Hall, was one of the friends Ayala traveled to Santa Barbara with shortly before her death.
“Last weekend, Giselle and I decided to go to Santa Barbara,” Peterson said. “On our way there, she asked me if I felt I had changed in college. We both agreed that we felt we had changed, but in the best ways: We’d grown up and become independent. She told me she couldn’t imagine her first year of college being any other way, that she was so happy with the things she was able to experience and the people that she got to meet.”
As she recounted her last memories of her friend, Peterson had to take several pauses for tears, but she continued to share her story to the crowd.
“We were so happy in that car ride,” Peterson said. “We weren’t just excited to go to Santa Barbara, we were excited about our lives in general. And then, I remember her saying, ‘This is what college is about. Going on adventures, meeting new people and having fun.’”