Karina Valdez, a School of Communication adviser, met with Mupalia (Mupi) Wakhisi at the Learning Center classrooms during holiday breaks to play the piano.
“He was a stand-up guy, very sentimental, very touching,” Valdez said. “He would just play the piano and he was talented in everything and anything that he tried: He could play the piano, he could sing, he could play the bongos, the harmonica – he bought a harmonica a few years ago and he would play that.”
Valdez now only has Wakhisi’s small gifts, like drawings, to remember him by.
He died Sunday at the age of 30. The cause of death has not been confirmed.
Wakhisi was the help desk technician and part of the IT department for the School of Communication (SoC). He addressed problems related to software and troubleshooting.
Tom Ortiz, director of technical operations and engineering, hired Wakhisi who worked in IT for seven years. Ortiz knew Wakhisi since he was 13 years old. Wakhisi’s mother Tsitsi is a journalism professor at the SoC.
Ortiz praised Wakhisi’s patience with the students.
“He didn’t hesitate to sit there and help anyone who needed any kind of assistance,” Ortiz said.
Tonya Sautier, SoC assistant dean, is friends with Tsitsi and knew Wakhisi as a family friend for six years.
“He’s just one of those people you have to like; he’s kind and giving; always smiling and happy and ready to make you laugh.”
Sautier found the news of his death as “surreal” and was “devastated.”
“It’s difficult to imagine something like this happening,” she said. “We’re still trying to comprehend it.”
Most students remember Wakhisi for his role in the Peace Sullivan/James Ansin High School Journalism and New Media Workshop. The workshop is a residential experience for high school students to hone their writing, editing, design and photography skills.
Wakhisi was once a director of the program and later helped out as an assistant, taking care of the students’ day-to-day needs.
Junior Elena Tayem attributes her admission to the University of Miami as a broadcast journalism major because of Wakhisi.
“Mupi, you have no idea how much you changed my life because of Miami Montage,” she said. “I would not be at my dream school, the University of Miami, if it wasn’t for you. I will never forget all the fun Montage memories.”
Yves Colon, a journalism professor and former director of the Montage program, remembers Wakhisi fondly.
For Colon, the loss is especially difficult because he knew Wakhisi since he was in “diapers,” watching him grow up. The relationships that Wakhisi formed with the students in Montage are his lasting legacy, Colon said.
“He was great with the kids,” Colon said. “He was all for fun, he loved to have fun with them but he was no nonsense. He wanted them to work and wanted them to get things accomplished as well.”
A public memorial service for Wakhisi will be held at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at the Storer Auditorium.