The light of Laura Rozo

A basket filled with colorful heart stickers. A bulletin board buried under note cards written with words made out of love. A picture frame of a beautiful woman with her hands outstretched and these words printed on the left: “Death is not a threat, but the condition that maximizes my life.”

On Wednesday afternoon, the sun was shining. A hundred students and faculty gathered round the Pit to honor the life of Laura Rozo.

One by one, family and close friends stood in front of the microphone and shared their memories of Laura. There were caregivers and professors who’d gotten to know her personally, students who’d heard her closing speech at TEDxUNC in February and others who simply knew her story.

I met Laura through N.C. Fellows, but we didn’t get to know each other until last fall. One day in the lobby of UNC Hospitals, she told me about how she’d been diagnosed with stage IV metastatic rhabdomyosarcoma back in 2011. She told me about the constant hospital visits and never-ending treatments.

I realized we had more in common than our college education: I’d had a tracheostomy for 20 years, and knew what it was like to live with a chronic health condition. We’d felt similar emotions, the same vulnerability and uncertainty about where life was taking us.

Laura reminded me that no matter what, we’re never alone. Pain is a universal human experience, but so are happiness and laughter — two things Laura brought into so many lives. The emotional and financial support Laura received these past several months from so many people has been overwhelming. For my and Laura’s friends, going through this together has made it just a little more bearable. She taught us what it means to have strength, the kind that doesn’t always come from the outside.

Laura’s legacy isn’t something that can be found carved on a statue or written in a thesis paper. She’s everywhere, and her presence still lingers. Sometimes, I walk into the crowded Pit and expect to see her sitting on the steps. When I think of salsa dancing, hoop earrings and gardens, I remember Laura. When the sun shines over the Coker Arboretum, I remember her smile. When I listen to the Clef Hangers sing “Carolina in My Mind” with Chancellor Holden Thorp, I remember how much Laura loved this school.

She may not be here physically, but Laura still lives within the hearts and minds of the people she touched.

Thanks for reading.

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