In Memory of Paulina Chiriboga

Her father and one of her closest friends recall her “beautiful, happy” life dedicated to helping others


Paulina with her two Chihuahuas, Mio and Lola, and her American bulldog Oso in 2017. Photo courtesy of Carlos Lopez, Paulina’s father.

Hope Dean, Features Editor

The Greek letters for Alpha Xi Delta stood proudly in the front of the Kaye Auditorium, along with two screens playing a slideshow filled with photographs. The place was “packed,” and several people stood up to share memories about sorority member Paulina Chiriboga — including her sorority sisters, her boyfriend, and her father, Carlos Lopez.


“We’re celebrating her life, but her life had just begun. I was kind of still shocked that … the life of my daughter, just 21 years old, had ended,” Lopez said.


The vigil in memory of Paulina was held Jan. 28, five days after her passing from a sudden brain hemorrhage.


Born Oct. 5, 1996, Paulina always knew she wanted to be a doctor. When her grandmother gifted her with a medical play-kit when she was small, she played with it constantly, molding her love for the profession from a young age.


“She always had her little stethoscope, she was always healing all her baby dolls and all the dogs. She always had the gift of medicine,” her father said.


After attending Lantana Elementary and Lantana Middle in Palm Beach County, she was accepted into the nearby medical program at Park Vista High School, where she excelled academically and took college courses early. She was “always thirsty for knowledge,” and could read a book in two days, Lopez said.


Peyton Kelly, one of her closest friends, said she was “very serious about her nursing,” and would stay in to study instead of going out some days.


Her father agreed, saying, “She was a go-getter, just like her mother [Cristina]… She knew that if she wanted something, she had to get it. Everything that you want, you have to work for, you don’t wait until somebody hands it out to you.”

Paulina with her mother, Cristina Lopez, in 2003. Photo courtesy of Carlos Lopez.

After high school, Pauline applied to an assortment of colleges and was accepted into many, including the University of Alabama. Despite this, she chose FAU to stay close to her mom and to her home, Lopez said. She was about to graduate at 21 and was enrolled in classes in FAU’s medical program for the next semester.


On top of her love for medicine, she had a passion for working with children and animals. She was involved in the advocacy organization Autism Speaks with her sorority and consistently visited pet stores and animal shelters.


“If one of her friends was feeling kind of down, she would take them to a pet store near Boca and tell them, ‘Hey, pretend you’re buying a dog.’ She was using it as therapy and then the friends would forget about their problems and see things in a different perspective,” Lopez said. “I think she did a lot of self-improving just to help other people. She made everybody be their best.”


Her close friend, Kelly agreed: “If someone was upset, or one of us was having a bad day, she was always the one that was like, ‘Let’s go do something! Let’s go get out of the house! Let’s go have fun!’ … I think she impacted a lot of people in that way.”


Kelly was with Paulina when she was rushed to the hospital and noted that she was never upset or scared during the process.


“I think that it’s important for people to know that even though it was so tragic, Paulina always had such a positive attitude … Even when we were going to the hospital, she kept her positivity to the very last second … She was just accepting,” she said. “We knew something was going on, but she kept her sense of humor, which I thought was amazing. She wasn’t panicked … She was calm and she was OK.”


Paulina’s father said her family is still trying to pick up the pieces, but the outpouring of love and support has helped.

Paulina with her mother and father during Mother’s Day in 2016 at John G’s restaurant in Manalapin, Florida. Photo courtesy of Carlos Lopez.

“Her sorority sisters, the whole university, they have supported us a great, great deal, and it has made us feel very special. Hopefully … that will ease some of the pain,” he said.


Lopez received a letter following Paulina’s passing from President John Kelly stating that the university will set up a scholarship in her name.


“Sounds like a cliche, but she was an awesome kid. She lived a beautiful, happy life, and she loved what she was doing  … Her life was to help people. Her dreams were endless,” Lopez said.


An excerpt from Kelly’s six-page essay about one of her closest friends spotlighted the positive impact she had on everyone around her:


I will never forget watching “Sweet Home Alabama” that day. If you’ve ever seen the movie, you learn … that when lightning strikes sand, beautiful glass is formed, you just have to dig it up to see. As silly as it may seem, I can’t help but relate this to what happened on that Friday …  Lightning is scary in some ways. It can hurt people and destroy things in a matter of seconds. Paulina had something unimaginably terrible happen to her in a matter of minutes … Paulina disappeared. Or that is how it seemed.


This is incredibly untrue. Paulina did not disappear. Despite what happened to her, Paulina will always be here because she taught the people around her valuable lessons. Lessons of being positive, finding things to laugh about rather than to complain about, showing immense amounts of kindness towards others … The lightning has passed and now we see the beauty in the person she was.

Hope Dean is the features editor of the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected].