UO student Pedro Rivera, who died at age 21, was ‘irreplaceable’ for many

Cheerful. Generous. Inquisitive. Driven. The kind of person that restores your faith in humanity.

These were the words used again and again by family, friends, colleagues and mentors to describe Pedro Rivera, who would have been a senior economics major at the University of Oregon this fall.

Pedro, 21, was found dead in his Eugene apartment on July 15. The cause of death is still unknown, according to his sister, Ruth Rivera, though evidence suggests it was due to natural causes.

Pedro was born in Inglewood, California, and as a young child moved to southern Oregon, where he graduated from Phoenix High School in 2012.

During his three years at UO, he was continuously recognized for his academic achievement. He was on the Dean’s List several times, volunteered with Eugene’s Centro Latino Americano’s youth mentoring program and was awarded the Diversity Excellence Scholarship and the Alanson H. Kleinsorge Economics Scholarship. He was also in the McNair Scholars Program, preparing for graduate school leading to a Ph.D.

Meanwhile, he worked 20 hours a week at the Architecture and Allied Arts Library, and maintained close relationships with his friends, family and girlfriend of four years, UO student Sophia Pankowski.

Pedro Rivera and his sister, Evelyn Rivera. (Photo uploaded to Evelyn Rivera's Facebook June 2014.)

Pedro Rivera and his sister, Evelyn Rivera. (Photo uploaded to Evelyn Rivera’s Facebook June 2014.)

Alan Sylvestre, a UO alumnus who graduated last year, worked at the A&AA Library with Pedro for about two years. They quickly became friends on and off the job, occasionally meeting between classes to study, run or play frisbee when the sun was out.

“I think the best way to describe Pedro is ‘selfless,'” he said.

One morning last year, they arrived around 8 to an opening shift at the library. Before getting to work, the two talked briefly, and Sylvestre explained that he missed breakfast because he slept in late. Despite being on crutches with a broken leg at the time, Pedro surprised Sylvestre by attempting to buy him breakfast at the nearby cafe.

“I didn’t even notice until he was hobbling about halfway down the hall,” Sylvestre said, laughing.

Pedro was obliging and ambitious as a friend, but also as an employee.

“I still remember going to library personnel to look at student job applications. Pedro had just left after filling one out. Someone handed his application to me and said, ‘This kid is really great,’ and it was absolutely true,” said Karen Bankole, Pedro and Sylvestre’s supervisor.

“He was brilliant and was always thinking and always asking questions about everything he was thinking. He loved understanding things and fixing things and finding solutions to problems,” Bankole said.

Pedro’s two younger sisters, Ruth and Evelyn Rivera, are also UO students and A&AA Library employees. The trio was as close as siblings can be.

“Pedro was an amazing older brother,” Evelyn said. “He was young, but very wise.”

Evelyn said her favorite memories of Pedro included the nights they spent talking about their dreams until 3 a.m. From “becoming the CEO of a company” to “becoming a senator,” Pedro’s dreams had no limit.

All he knew for sure was that he wanted to help people, to make positive change. He was determined to make that a reality, Evelyn said.

“There’s nothing I can ever say to describe what the world is missing because of Pedro not being with us anymore,” Sylvestre said. “He’s completely irreplaceable.”

Pedro’s funeral took place July 24. The Rivera family is asking for donations to help out with the funeral expenses, which can be given through their GoFundMe page.

Follow Andrea Harvey on Twitter: @andrearharvey

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Andrea Harvey

Andrea Harvey

Andrea is an arts and culture editor for the Emerald, and recent graduate of the UO School of Journalism and Communication.