What Liza Taught Me

in Opinion by

This article was originally published on Fresh U, an online publication created by college freshmen. You can find the original article published here and more information about Fresh U here.

We stood together once again as the class of 2015 reassembled for one final goodbye. We had graduated only three weeks before, dressed in brilliant gold as we walked across the stage and into our futures. Yet today, we wore black, mourning a lost classmate and friend.

A girl with a personality as loud as her laugh, Liza Angulo, lost her life in a multi-vehicle crash only a few days before. For many of us, we were attending our first funeral, shedding our first tears of sorrow as we watched her casket roll in.

It all happened so suddenly. We awoke on Friday, May 28 to alarmed messages, emotional Facebook posts and a different world. Liza had lost her life in a high speed crash after a truck pulled out of a construction site and into her lane, a tragic case of “wrong place, wrong time.”

As the days somehow passed by, we held candlelight memorials and spent time with grieving relatives. By the end of the week, we pulled through the pain together, not as a class but as a family.

Despite the tragedy, the loss taught our class a lesson we hadn’t learned in high school: we aren’t invincible. Frankly, life is as unpredictable as our elders told us. I always knew to value each day, but Liza taught me to value each moment.

Liza lived her life in a way many envied and emulated. She laughed the loudest, loved the hardest and lived every day as fearlessly and unapologetically herself as she could. She put her friends first in every situation. Through the highest highs and the lowest lows, she was there for you, usually with the best batch of slutty brownies the world will ever see.

Class of 2019, before we embark on our collegiate journey, make the most of this summer. It’s the last summer with your high school friends, the people who made each year worth the stress, drama and doubts.

Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a horrid accident to remind others how precious life can be, how meaningful relationships are. So this summer, live like Liza did. Forgive those who hurt you, go out three nights in a row, go on a road trip, raise the volume on your iPod and dance like no one’s watching. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to tell your friends how much you care. Say “thank you,” say “I forgive you” and say “I love you.”

No one knows what hand life will deal you, but only you can hold the cards. Undoubtedly, by this time next year many friendships will have come and gone and you’ll have a new group of people on your recent calls, a different study group and a new Snapchat best friend. Hold on tightly to all the friendships you can. Be thankful for everyone in your life and every glimmer of optimism that comes your way. At the end of the day, whether they are from high school or college, that person’s your friend. Never forget that.

Liza knew that better than anyone. She spent her time making personalized birthday cards and baked goods for her closest friends on their birthday, took pictures and laid out pages for the yearbook to capture the year’s best images and gave the biggest hugs imaginable.

So cherish the moments, both good and bad, that this summer will bring. Let people know what they mean to you, whether that means giving them a handwritten letter or a simple smile. Make memories, make mistakes and make fun of each other. After all, this is the last summer together before life works its uncertain magic so live it up.

I think of Liza everyday; I don’t think I’ll ever stop. However, one thing has been helping me through this. In her senior video, a two-minute film about each publication senior, Liza’s final quote to the class of 2015 still resonates with me.

She said: “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in those years.”

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