By Luke Frank

Planting a Memory

Tree Dedication Becomes Rx for Healing

Before the 2018 graduating class from The University of New Mexico College of Pharmacy left the Health Sciences campus in May, there was one thing they had to do that would forever root them together.

Andrew Vega, 33, was a vibrant, upbeat pharmacy student in his second year when he died suddenly from a medical episode in 2016. His passing sent shock waves through the college.

This spring, a group of Andrew's classmates came up with the idea of dedicating a tree on North Campus in his memory. They felt the tree would represent his love of his friends and colleagues.

A sturdy evergreen standing outside the College of Pharmacy's entrance was rededicated in Andrew's name in a moving ceremony as his fellow students honored the legacy of a friend taken too soon.

"Andrew was a lovely man - always smiling, just constantly," recalls Bridgette Wagner-Jones with the college's office of communications. "He was one of those people who really meant it when he'd ask how you are. He had great energy and excitement for his classmates, his coursework and life in general. Andrew's positive expressions were transformative."

After his passing, his fellow students felt compelled to somehow help and organized fundraisers to support Andrew's family and honor his memory.

"Our students spend most of their waking hours together in their first three years of an intensive, rigorous program," says Krystal Ward, student advisor for the college. "They bond in a way other students don't. They get married, have children, lose loved ones. They're an incredibly close-knit community."

The fundraisers and memorial ceremony were completely student led, Ward says. "It was an initiative that became very important to them," she says. "Andrew's tree will continue to be a source of peace and inspiration for our pharmacy students."

A small plaque at the bottom of the tree, surrounded by flowers on dedication day - Andrew's birthday - has his name, his birth and death dates, and a small inscription that simply reads, "Loving friend and wonderful pharmacy student."

Categories: College of Pharmacy, Education