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The Recap Episode 1: Notre Dame community remembers first-year students

and | Friday, November 20, 2020

First-year students Valeria Espinel and Olivia Laura Rojas died this semester after they were hit by a car while walking on Ironwood Road. The Notre Dame community reflects on their lives in The Observer’s first News department podcast.

Courtesy of Carlos Fabrega
First-years Valeria Espinel (left) and Olivia Laura Rojas (right) were best friends.



Serena Zacharias: From the News department of The Observer, this is The Recap. I’m Serena Zacharias, and I’ll be hosting the first episode of The Observer’s new podcast — serving Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross. We’re kicking off with a special episode to highlight the stories of two students in the community we lost this semester.

On Oct. 24, two Notre Dame first-year students were killed and one sophomore was hospitalized after being hit by a car in the early hours of the morning.

The two first years who died were Valeria Espinel and Olivia Laura Rojas. That night, hundreds of members of the tri-campus community gathered at a prayer service to honor their lives and pray for sophomore Eduardo Jose Elias Calderon who was also struck in the crash.

Claire Rafford: In his opening remarks director of Campus Ministry Fr. Pete McCormick said, “In the wake of tragedy the Notre Dame community shows up for each other.”

The packed commons of Bond quad that evening demonstrated that solidarity.

Serena Zacharias: That was Claire Rafford, Assistant Managing Editor.

Fr. Joe Corpora, who serves as the chaplain for Latino students at the University, spoke at the service.

Fr. Joe Corpora: “We have all gathered here tonight in confusion and in sorrow, in shock and in disbelief, to pray for Valeria and Olivia, for their parents, for their siblings, to pray for their friends in Ecuador and in Bolivia, and here at Notre Dame. Our minds can begin to understand what happened, but our hearts and our spirits cannot take it in.”

Claire Rafford: After the service ended attendees were given candles and then processed to the Grotto to further offer intentions for Valeria and Olivia. Due to the crowd size and social distancing, the Grotto procession continued for at least an hour after the prayer service officially ended, as candle after candle offered thoughts and prayers for the lives and families of these two students.

Serena Zacharias: Valeria Espinel lived in Badin Hall. She was an intended economics major originally from Guayaquil, Ecuador.

Managing Editor Mariah Rush spoke to Valeria’s friends to get a better picture of what she was like.

Mariah Rush: Valeria’s friends said she was the type of person who made everyone feel good.

Serena Zacharias: First year Lorena Colon, one of Valeria’s three roommates said,

Lorena Colon: “If there was anything you were doubting to do, whether it’s like, ‘oh I don’t know if I should take up this hobby’ or ‘I don’t know if I should talk to this person in my class that I’ve been wanting to talk to,’ she would encourage you.”

Mariah Rush: After Valeria’s death, I learned that her friends from Ecuador wrote and sang an original song for her called “Little Miss Perfect,” and they posted it on Instagram.

The title refers to the nickname “little miss perfect” Valeria had while growing up.

Song: “Well-lived life that’s what you had, your accomplishments and laughs are always in our hearts. The light that you shined will always keep us warm and though I want you here sometimes things go wrong. Little miss perfect that’s what you were called, we’ll try and make you proud as life goes on.”

Mariah Rush: I also spoke to first-year Nico Lopez, who became friends with Valeria earlier in the semester. He said him and the rest of Valeria’s friends will remember her as just so happy with her life here at Notre Dame.

Nico Lopez: “She was the happiest here that she’s been in her life. She was constantly telling us that she was very happy here and that Notre Dame was everything that she ever wanted and more. And her parents knew that, her friends knew that. And I think we all thank the Notre Dame community as a whole for giving Valeria such an amazing place to be even if it wasn’t for the longest of times.”

Mariah Rush: Lopez also told me that Valeria’s friendship with Olivia Laura Rojas, who also died in the crash, was incredibly important to her.

Nico Lopez: “Everything they did they did together it was really impressive to us how they became so close through zoom and how they maintained such a strong friendship despite all the challenges that we faced as a freshman class. They never left each other’s sides they never hesitated, and we admire that a lot.”

Serena Zacharias: The two were actually celebrating their 7-month Friendiversary hours before they were killed.

Olivia Laura Rojas was from Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia. She lived in Cavanaugh Hall and planned to study in the Mendoza College of Business.

Senior, News Writer Maria Paul and I spoke to some of her friends. People who knew her described Olivia as a leader and a loyal friend. She was close to her family, especially her mom.

Maria Paul: Through facetime calls and Zoom meetings, Olivia managed to connect her friends from Bolivia with her Notre Dame friends.

Serena Zacharias: That was senior news writer Maria Paul.

Maria Paul: First year Gaby del Rosario told me she admired the way Olivia could form friendships so easily.

Gaby del Rosario: “Olivia just had a really special way of getting people together. She always brought everyone she cared about together. I think that’s why if you ask anybody who knew her, they will tell you she was an incredibly beloved person.”

Serena Zacharias: Olivia was confident in herself. Junior Juliana Salvatierra Moreno who knew Olivia since they were little, said she always admired how self-assured she was.

Juliana Salvatierra Moreno: “Olivia had this personality of a queen, you know? Someone who was sure of herself.”

Maria Paul: Olivia’s friends said she was spontaneous. She liked cooking, staying up late and taking photos.

Sophomore Manuela Trigo had also known Olivia since she was little, but she became closer with her when Olivia began school at Notre Dame.

Manuela Trigo: “I am really grateful that I had the chance to meet her these past couple last months and spending time with her she was really unique and a really fun person to be with. She had a really enthusiastic personality. She was always with a smile, and really I could talk with her for hours. I remember when we went to Hesburgh library to supposedly study, we would just stay talking and talking without opening a single book. Also, I would say she was a free spirit. She loved being around friends and having a good time. She would always enjoy every single moment. Whenever we would be chatting through What’s App and she would be telling me all about her weekend she would send five-minute voice notes and pictures just laughing. She really had a great time here at Notre Dame. She loved being here, and she really had the ability to be loved by so many people. Olivia really marked me, and she taught me that the greatest friendships were not always the longest.”

Serena Zacharias: News Writer Grace Doerfler reported on a community Mass for Valeria and Olivia the University held in Notre Dame Stadium a few days after their deaths. During the Mass, Fr. Pete McCormick urged the community to live with the same passion the two friends lived their lives.

Fr. Pete McCormick: “Let us not forget about the principles that Valeria and Olivia live their lives by women who live full throttle. Women who knew how to work hard, but also women who knew the importance of a good friend, who knew the importance of looking out for the other thing,

Serena Zacharias: That’s it for our first episode of The Recap. Thanks for listening. Join us next semester for weekly summaries of the major headlines on Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross’ campuses. Thank you to Editor-in-Chief Maria Leontaras, Managing Editor Mariah Rush, Assistant Managing Editor Claire Rafford and News Writers Maria Paul and Grace Doerfler. Serena Zacharias for The Observer.

Music courtesy of Ryan Neff.

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About Serena Zacharias

Serena is a member of the class of 2021 majoring in Neuroscience and Behavior and minoring in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She hails from the great cheese state of Wisconsin and is a former ND News Editor for The Observer.

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