Rebeca Olivera will be forever remembered as a person who could light up any room she walked into. She died Saturday, Sept. 5 in Monterrey, Mexico.
Olivera was born Nov. 15, 1992, in Campeche, Mexico where she was raised. She enrolled at FGCU in 2010 as an international student on the Latin American and the Caribbean Scholarship and graduated in May 2015 with a bachelor’s in environmental engineering. She was pursuing a master’s degree in Monterrey when she died when a fire in her home caused a gas leak.
The FGCU community got together under a light blue sky to hold a vigil in the memory of Olivera. The event took place at 7 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 7, at the Tiki Hut on the waterfront in North Lake Village.
“Primarily, it was organized by a group of alumni who worked together this weekend,” said Michele Yovanovich, the dean of students. “They knew what they wanted to do, and I helped them get there.”
The event was propagated through social media. An online campaign to honor Olivera’s memory also took place on social networks. Using #ForRebeca, individuals shared their favorite memories with her and how they will remember her. The hashtag was posted alongside pictures of sunflowers since Olivera compared herself to that flower once.
“I really think I’m like a sunflower,” Olivera tweeted Nov. 18, 2014.
Olivera was not an ordinary FGCU student. She was highly involved and left a significant impact on the university. Among her abundant involvement, she was a resident assistant, orientation leader, employee in the Multicultural and Development Office, teaching assistant in the U.A. Whitaker College of Engineering, member of the Rotary Club and a member of the Lead Team. Olivera was also a founding member of Phi Mu and a part of the Order of Omega in her senior year.
The Olivera family was involved with FGCU before Olivera enrolled. Olivera’s father, William Olivera, worked for the Mexican government back in 1997, and he came to live in Fort Myers with his wife and their three children. The family connected with the university, and when the Olivera children grew up, they all attended FGCU. William Olivera, the oldest child, graduated in 2011. Paul Olivera, the youngest, is a junior computer information systems major.
“Many years ago, she started acting like a mother to me, and whenever she introduced me to her friends, she said, ‘This is my son,’” Paul Olivera said.
He said Olivera dreamed of changing Mexico someday.
“She always complained about water pollution,” Paul Olivera said. “Her dream was to come back home and try to fix it.”
“Now that she’s gone, all I want to do is to get involved as much as possible in FGCU for her memory,” Paul Olivera said. “And, after I graduate, I’m pretty sure I want to come back to Mexico and make a change back home, just like she wanted.”
Students Spencer Stearns and Juan Diaz led the vigil at which Thieldens Elneus, the student body president, spoke.
“She impacted our campus phenomenally,” Elneus said.
Valerie Garcia-Rea, the assistant director of New Student Programs, also spoke at the vigil.
“Rebeca enjoyed making people laugh,” Garcia-Rea said. “She tried to convince people that they said hello by bumping their heads in Mexico, once.”
Remarks were also made by Michael Rollo, vice president of Student Affairs; Tabitha Dawes, coordinator of New Student Programs; and Lauren Dowd, president of the Theta Nu chapter of the Phi Mu fraternity; among others.
Phi Mu did an open ritual in the vigil. The vigil was open for the FGCU community and friends. There was also a moment of silence for Olivera before the candles were blown out.
The vigil was filmed and the recording will be sent to the Olivera family in Mexico. Blank paper was provided for members of the community to write letters to the family sharing memories and experiences they had with Olivera. After the ceremony ended, Eagles Landing was open until midnight for the attendees to keep sharing stories and remembering Olivera.
A celebration of life event will take place Sept. 25 in Campeche, where family and friends will share different memories and stories about Olivera.
“Friends from FGCU are more than welcome to come,” Paul Olivera said.