Sophomore Stephanie Alcala remembers sharing a bowl of “SpongeBob SquarePants” macaroni and cheese with freshman Melissa Ribeiro.
Alcala, who later became her big sister in the Delta Phi Epsilon Sorority (DPhiE), recalls that that is the moment when she knew their bond had formed. Alcala said that Ribeiro preferred the cartoon macaroni and cheese because the crevices had more room to make the taste cheesier.
Ribeiro passed away Wednesday night after a short illness that has not been publicly disclosed. The University of Miami organized a candlelight vigil in her memory. Her parents, sister, school administrators and hundreds of students attended.
“She was a hidden gem,” Alcala said at the vigil. “She was an amazing, special person, and I am so lucky to have been graced by her beautiful soul.”
The vigil was held at the UC Patio. To express their support, those in attendance wore purple and yellow, the colors of DPhiE.
Patricia Whitely, vice president for Student Affairs, issued opening remarks. She expressed the importance of the university gathering together to remember Ribeiro.
Rev. Skip Flynn, the chaplain for UM’s Counseling Center, led the ceremony’s prayers. His remarks echoed the impact of Ribeiro’s loss.
“She made the greatest friends of her life here,” Flynn said.
After the chaplain issued final remarks, Danielle Poreh, DPhiE president, included the public in a sisterhood ritual called “The Rose Story.”
The ceremony concluded with a silent reflection. Those who attended the ceremony also had the opportunity to sign a guest book.
Ribeiro passed away at a local hospital from a recent illness.
According to her Facebook page, Ribeiro attended Montgomery High School in Skillman, N.J. She was studying at UM’s School of Business and lived in Hecht Residential College.
President Donna E. Shalala released a statement to express sentiments regarding Ribeiro’s death.
“The University of Miami community mourns the death of Melissa Ribeiro after a short illness,” Shalala said. “… She was sensitive, caring, talented, and had a passion for those treated unjustly. Our thoughts and prayers are with Melissa’s family and friends.”
On March 24, Ribeiro was inducted into the Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society for freshmen.
Whitely sent a letter to students on Thursday afternoon to address concerns.
“There have been several inquiries relating to whether there is a public health risk,” Whitely wrote. “The Department of Health and the UM Student Health Service have determined that there is no evidence of such a risk, and no other students are presenting with a similar condition.”
Whitely also expressed her sentiments about the student’s passing.
“She was giving and passionate about life,” Whitely wrote. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Melissa’s family and friends.”
Alexander Gonzalez contributed to this report.
University chaplains and the Counseling Center staff are available to students in need. For more information, visit miami.edu/chaplains, or contact the Counseling Center at 305-284-5511. The Student Health Center is also available at 305-284-9100 or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.