About 250 students, professors, family and friends held a candlelight vigil Thursday night in Sunset Village to commemorate UCLA student Christian Guzman, who died on Sunday at a retreat with The Posse Foundation. He was 21.
“Christian was an example of love,” said Maritza Galdamos, his mother, at the vigil. “He always inspired me to face life’s problems. He would always tell me, ‘there are never any obstacles, just solutions.’”
The cause of Guzman’s death is still being investigated by the San Bernardino coroner, said Jimmy Guzman, Christian Guzman’s uncle.
Guzman was the child of Salvadoran immigrants and a first-generation college student. At UCLA, he was a fourth-year student preparing to graduate this year with a bachelor’s degree in physics, said Ericka Jones, a fourth-year world arts and culture student and a friend of Guzman’s.
UCLA community members lit candles shortly after the beginning of the vigil, and many speakers shared memories of Guzman’s life. Among them were his mother and friends from college, high school and middle school.
“Christian had an extremely profound impact on my life,” said Julian Albinski-Euler, a fourth-year music student who met Guzman in his second year at UCLA. “His energy and spirit always brightened my day, and I am very grateful and lucky he stumbled into my life.”
Albinski-Euler said he can’t wait to share his memories of Guzman with his children in the future.
Guzman was a member of The Posse Foundation at UCLA, which recruits and trains high school students from underrepresented backgrounds to become leaders and graduate from a four-year university. He had received an honorary Posse Foundation scholarship and a Warren Christopher Scholarship, among others, Jones said.
Some of Guzman’s family members at the vigil recalled moments that they said showed his perseverance.
Jimmy Guzman said he remembers Christian Guzman breaking a wheel on his wheelchair on his way to high school one time, but instead of going home for the day, he made it to class. Guzman was born with muscular dystrophy, a group of inherited disorders that involve progressive muscle weakness and loss of muscle tissue, which gets worse over time.
“He … put the wheel back on – the broken wheel – and he went to school,” Jimmy Guzman said. “He never let any physical obstacle stop him.”
Others lauded his sense of humor and wit.
“Christian would give you a wink and a one-liner, and he would have a new one-liner every week,” said Janae Osby, a fourth-year anthropology student who met Guzman through The Posse Foundation.
Christian’s friends from The Posse Foundation at UCLA started an online fundraiser to raise $10,000 to help his mother cover the costs of his funeral. They have already raised more than $9,000 and are asking for further donations to reach their goal.