Islander Tribute Honors the Memory of Departed Students

By Michelle Villarreal Leschper, Published: April 11, 2019

Islander Tribute Honors the Memory of Departed Students

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Oftentimes, we pass by people who touch our lives, whether it be a simple gesture like someone holding a door open or staying after class to ask a question. To Dr. Juan Carlos Huerta, professor of political science at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, Pedro Garza was an Islander student who stood out.

“After every class, Pedro would ask me a question about politics,” Huerta said. “This was very unique because a lot of students don’t do that. They don’t want to be in a 200-person lecture or they try to run away from me. Pedro wasn’t like that. He was eager to learn more.”

Garza, one of seven students who passed away last year, was in a first-year learning community with approximately 25 students. He and his classmates became a tight-knit group. They would sit together in class, visit with each other, and enjoyed playing video games, according to Huerta. 

Huerta, along with family members, students, faculty, and staff gathered to commemorate the lives of seven departed students at this year’s Islander Tribute, a tradition that began in 2003.

Erin Donalson, who also passed away last summer, transferred to A&M University-Corpus Christi where she was part of the wildlife and fisheries program. She also was a member of the Alpha Chi Omega sorority and enjoyed saltwater fishing, paddle boarding and playing with her dog, Lucy.

Kirk Jorgensen, a sophomore business student, Student Government Association (SGA) member, attended the event to show support of his former peers.

“You see students every day and you think they’re going to be there tomorrow,” Jorgensen said.

Aspen Salazar, a Kyle native, had an associate degree in Early Childhood Development and was pursuing a bachelor’s in education and human development. She was a warm and joyful person who went the extra mile for her friends and family. Salazar had a distinctive laugh and a contagious smile that displayed her bright and spirited personality.

A total of 73 inscribed bricks have memorialized Islander students in the Lee Plaza. During the ceremony, families were presented with a glass memento to honor their loved one. At the memorial site, departed students were commemorated by SGA and celebrated with a ukulele rendition of “Over the Rainbow.”

Seven students were honored at this year’s tribute:

  • Marcie Arnold – College of Nursing and Health Sciences
  • Furkan Beser – College of Science and Engineering
  • Erin Donalson – College of Science and Engineering
  • Pedro Garza – College of Business
  • Masada Jordan – College of Education and Human Development
  • Aspen Salazar – College of Education and Human Development
  • Jonathan Stilwell – College of Science and Engineering

“Islander Tribute is a special experience to have because we come together to reflect on what it means to be part of the Islander community,” said Sarina Garcia, Committee Chair of the SGA Spirit and Traditions Committee and SGA president-elect. “This ceremony is one of many things that help in the healing of our community. These students embodied the Islander Spirit and will always be a part of the Islander family.”