As students returned this month to Cal Poly Pomona, missing from the student body was an inspirational 19-year-old, Cindy M. Vega of Whittier. No one there misses her more than her fellow members of the Society of Hispanics in Science and Engineering.
Vega, a 1987 graduate of St. Paul High School, had been battling cancer for more than a year. She died July 14 at City of Hope Hospital.
In May, 1988, she was diagnosed as having non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (cancer of the lymph tissues). As a result, Vega, a chemical engineering major, was forced to leave school. After receiving chemotherapy, Vega made another attempt at school, remaining active and returning as president of SHSE's fund-raising committee at the college.
But Vega's return to college was cut short after doctor's discovered leukemia cells in her bone marrow. After a transplant of bone marrow donated by her brother Xavier, doctors told the Vega family that the cancer was terminal.
Two weeks later, she died.
"All I ever wanted in life," she had told her mother, Angie Vega, "was to go to school."
"Her heart was in the books," said her father, Margarito. "Her last moments were concern for her brother. She left us with beautiful memories. She was the oldest of 19 grandchildren. She knew she was an example. She was very aware of her role. She felt a sense of responsibility (to promote education)."
"Cindy never gave up hope," said fellow SHSE member Bernadette Duran. "We spoke during spring break. She spoke about returning to school this fall. She had such an optimistic outlook."
Ofelia Rubio, president of the SHSE chapter, spoke of mourning. "We have lost someone, but she would want us to go forward. Education was so important to her. She had such a positive attitude."
Members of SHSE, Rubio said, are contemplating honoring Vega by creating a scholarship in her name, dedicating a planned organizational history book in her honor or creating a special award for the member with the best attitude.
Vega was also very active in Advancing Careers in Engineering, a student outreach committee of SHSE. "Her motivation," Salvador S. Zambrano, head of that committee, said, "was to help others."
"Knowing that she was battling cancer," Rubio added, "she would go out of her way to talk to high school students and their parents, to use herself as an example, to let them know the importance of education."
At the funeral, Zambrano and officers of SHSE presented their organization's green and gold banner to the Vega family.
"When she was just about to die," her father recalled, "I asked her if she had any last words. . . . She replied, 'I love everybody.' "