Holding back tears and voice quivering, he joked that Nohemi Gonzalez would have hated this vigil because she hated attention.
“See this, babe?” he rhetorically asked his deceased girlfriend as he looked up to the heavens in front of a packed room. “See all the people here for you? They’re all here for you.”
A senior industrial design student at CSULB, Gonzalez was killed in one of the terrorist attacks that rocked Paris on Friday. Her boyfriend, Tim Mraz, family, friends and others from the community spoke at a memorial and candlelight vigil that California State University, Long Beach held Sunday to celebrate the life of Gonzalez. Held in the University Student Union ballrooms, the ceremony drew a crowd of about 2,200, according to University Police.
Mraz, who was in a relationship with Gonzalez for nearly four years, shared fond memories.
“She was my Pocahontas, you know,” Mraz said. “She had a Pocahontas tattoo on her left arm because she’s left-handed. So am I. She always said I was her John Smith. She liked pugs too, so I always joke that she’s in heaven with 100 pugs around her and she’s dressing them all up.”
CSULB Vice President of Student Affairs Carmen Taylor officiated the memorial portion of the vigil in the ballrooms. The crowd had gotten so large that hundreds spilled out to the Friendship Walk outside the USU, and workers posted speakers to broadcast the audio from the service.
“Cal State Long Beach may be a large urban university, located in a big city but when we lose a member of our campus community, it affects us all,” Taylor said. “It diminishes the whole and we are less because of this loss.”
Gonzalez was a CSULB senior design student studying abroad for the semester at Strate College of Design. She was one of four students in the design program in Paris, and one of 17 CSULB students studying in France. Gonzalez would have returned to California in December when the program finishes.
“The attacks in Paris two days ago only seem to confirm what many of us already know,” Taylor said. “That we live in a very uncertain world. Even the most innocent among us are at risk when doing nothing more than living our daily lives.
“That’s all Nohemi was doing when she found herself in the middle of a senseless act of violence that had nothing to do with her. Still, it was an act that claimed this life, the life of a beautiful vibrant, 23-year-old student here at our university.”
University President Jane Close Conoley said that the vigil was not only for Gonzalez, but also for the city of Paris and for those who felt the impact worldwide.
“Taking the life of an innocent, and for Nohemi, an innocent with such great promise, is an assault on our hearts, to be sure,” Conoley said. “But also on our world. While today’s vigil is focused on Nohemi and her cherished family, friends, professors, we can’t help but experience the anguish felt by all those people of goodwill around the globe who know the one profound message of every religion is to love others as you want to be loved.”
Those who also spoke at Gonzalez’ memorial included: CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White, French Consul-Generale M. Christophe Lemoine; CSULB Design Department Chair Martin Herman; CSULB ASI President Jose Salazar; Gonzalez’ stepfather, Jose Hernandez and other family members; and design students Alex Schumacher, Angela Hickman and Tanya Flores.
After the speeches, the thousands honoring Gonzalez’ memory filed outside to light candles and place them outside on the plaza east of the USU. Members of the Bob Cole Conservatory chorus sang both during the memorial and at the candlelight vigil.
Tributes to Gonzalez’ memory are scattered through campus, including the plaza, the Design building and the Lymon Lough Fountain on the east side of Brotman Hall. The university requested that anyone interested in placing flowers or other items leaves them at the fountain. The Design Department at CSULB will be hosting a private memorial for Gonzalez at a later date, according to the Design Department Facebook page.
A fund drive to help the Gonzalez family, “The Nohemi Gonzalez Memorial Fund” on DonationTo, can be found at donationto.com/The-Nohemi-Gonzalez-Memorial-Fund.