Memories

Maria Torres

Dean at Chicano Latino Student Affairs

La comunidad Latina de Claremont esta de luto por la perdida de Willie, quien fue gran amigo, lider, mentor, brillante estudiante y persona honorable. Su inteligencia era sin igual, con una sonrisa siempre en los labios, el llenaba de alegria nuestros corazones. Wille que siempre estaba enfocado en sus estudios y deseaba ser profesor para alludar a su familia adorada. Willie fue un joven respetado y admirado por todos. Hoy el cielo amanecio llorando y nosotros lloramos tambien porque Willie ahora es un estrella en el firmamento.

Michael Storrie-Lombardi, M.D. (Ret.)

Research Advisor, Physics

Willie loved physics. He worked with me on several projects infusing each of them with joy, hope, and enthusiasm. At the time of his death he was deeply involved in our Engineering Clinic project for City of Hope Department of Surgery to develop a laser spectroscopy technique that could rapidly identify breast cancer. His talent, his joy were such gifts to us all – I just miss him, but will always, always remember. Hugs to all. Mike

Erica Quinn '19

I am a Mentor in the dorm where Willie was Proctor

Willie was a very understated person. He would do wonderful things for people, and make them sound small and easy. In one of our weekly Mentor-Proctor meetings, he casually mentioned that he’d spent one whole day of his weekend with somebody who was having a tough time, but he said it in such a way that I almost didn’t notice that that was something special. He was willing to give anything to help people. I never heard him say a negative thing about anybody, and there wasn’t a person he didn’t care about.

At the beginning of the school year I was having a hard time, and Willie was there to support me. He made me feel so comfortable that I immediately opened up to him. One of his strongest skills was being a good listener. Instead of trying to fix the situation, he validated my feelings, and he made me feel less alone.

He encouraged our Mentor-Proctor team to be closer to each other. My favorite thing that we did together was telling our life stories. It was amazing to hear what he’d already accomplished and how excited he was about some of the things he did.

He was a beautiful soul, and I don’t fully understand his loss yet. Even though he didn’t get to do all of the good that he had planned, he still had a tremendous impact on the Mudd community and the people who knew him. I hope to go forward with the love I have for him and use it to help others as he would have done. All my love to his family and friends during this inconceivably difficult time.

The Reeve Family '17

Our son, Michael, is a classmate and friend

Our sympathy to the Zuniga family. Our son enjoyed being Willie’s friend and appreciated Willie’s leadership at Atwood. Willie has made a strong positive impact on the lives of many others and blessed those who had the opportunity to know him.

The Echevarria Family '17

Our deepest condolences to the Zuniga family and to the HMC family in this difficult time.

Melissa M.

Friend

During the summer of 2015, I had the pleasure of hearing Willie talk about his research on dark matter. I didn’t understand very much (any of it) but I remember smiling as I heard him speak so excitedly about his work. Rest in Power with the stars, friend.

Josie Martin

Ofelia (sister in law)

My condolences to your family Guillermo, may his soul rest in everlasting peace 🙏

Cyndia Sweet '02

None

I did not know your son but I do know that he was having the time of his life at Harvey Mudd. God bless you and your family in this time of sorrow.

Joe Laubach '05

My condolences to Willie’s family, friends, and the HMC community.

Elizabeth Stoltzfus '97

I want to offer my condolences to Willie’s family and friends. It brings up memories of the student who was lost during my time at HMC. I am grateful to HMC for the excellent support it provides its students, faculty, and staff. I hope that the passage of time will ease the grief…

Ritu Shah

Deepest Condolence to Willie’s family and friends. May his soul rest in peace.

Hallie Michaels '19

I am an HMC parent.

I want to express my condolences and send thoughts and prayers. I am so sorry for your loss. My heart goes out to all of you.

Sheryl Kipnis

My deepest condolences to Willie’s family and friends. My son is a student at HMC and told us, with great sadness, of the loss. May you find comfort in the love and care of those who surround you.

Carol Rizzolo '08

Mother of Douglas Rizzolo

Oh, my heart goes out to the family and friends of this young man.

Dagan Karp

Professor/instructor

Even though I only knew Willie academically, in class and so forth, I found out immediately that he was a sweetheart; he was so kind. What a gift he was to the world.

Raunak Pednekar '17

Friend

He was a Physics major, was Willie Zuniga, but one who took a bunch of Chemistry classes with me. The one I won’t forget is p-chem lab. He was my partner all semester

8 hours a week for 14 weeks we spent all our time within a few feet of each other in that crummy old lab. Well, most of it. We would take a “short” coffee break every lab session where we would inexplicably — and much to the amusement of other lab members — disappear for 20 odd minutes midway through lab to steal coffee from Parsons. 

I don’t remember everything we talked about on our routine sojourns. I do remember marveling at how one could smile so widely while drinking piping hot coffee

Raunak Pednekar '17

Friend

It was freshman year and we were two days away from classes beginning. I got an email from Prof Yong asking me to meet with him because I hadn’t completed the summer math assignment. School hadn’t begun yet and I was a problem set behind.

I was walking to the Shan, dreading the embarrassing meeting that was about to take place. As I got closer to the stairway, I noticed another figure making his way up too. Maybe this poor dude hadn’t done his homework either? He turned around to reveal a beaming face. “Crap”, I thought- “That’s not the face of someone who hasn’t done his homework”.

But it was. It was Willie Zuniga’s face. A face that would go on to provide comfort to many others over the next three years. He was among the first friends I made here. The meeting that afternoon was much better, kinder and warmer for having Willie in it. 

Many of our lives undoubtedly have been too.

Bob Cave

Professor in two classes

I worked with Willie in pchem and pchem lab during Fall 2014. He was a leader in lab and a hard worker in the class who loved applying physics to understand chemistry. In class and in my office he was always positive, always smiling. He was a sweet, gentle person who was delight to be with. And when I saw him in following semesters he was that same person – kind, friendly, and supportive. What a loss.

Dan McCabe '17

I didn’t know Willie very well, but I was hoping that I would get to in my last semester. Every time we passed each other on campus, he would greet me with the most genuine smile and say hello, even though I can’t remember us ever having a conversation. Something about these brief interactions was really uplifting and it was impossible not to smile in return, and to keep smiling afterwards.

I miss having Willie around to brighten my day. I hope that as a community we can embrace the characteristics that made him so loved and honor his memory by doing our best to make those around us smile through gestures big and small, and appreciating the people who do that for us.

Jason Gallicchio

In June, the Pomona Armature Astronomy Club invited students and I to Mount Wilson, where Hubble made many of his ground-breaking discoveries about the existence of galaxies outside of our own, the enormous size of the universe, and its expansion. Willie was there. I brought binoculars to look at stars and planets while we were on the mountain. Willie knew more about how to find interesting things that I did.

Sharon Gerbode

His professor

When I applied to work at Harvey Mudd College, in my mind I had a vision of what Mudders were like: bright and curious, fun-loving, but most of all kind. I envisioned students who would work together, struggle together, and make time for one another despite their busy schedules. To me Willie is a perfect example of this true Mudder. Although I only knew him as a physics student, even in class his kindness and deep caring for others came through. Working up at the board with his classmates, Willie seemed to be a calming influence, always showing warmth and respect to his peers even as they struggled through challenging problems. Willie’s actions showed how highly he prioritized people’s well being, and I admire his commitment to helping others. We were lucky to know him here at HMC.

Matthew Calligaro '20

My Proctor and Friend

During Orientation, Willie heard me playing Ride the Lighting, and he eagerly told me he was a huge Metallica fan too. That night, we jammed together for over an hour, talking about everything from metal concerts to life at Mudd. He was the first person to really make me feel part of this community. I remember at one point, he opened his closet to show me a new vinyl copy of Ride the Lighting he just bought a week before. We listened and played along together—I always think of him when I hear those songs now. Ever since that day, he always greeted me with a wave and a huge smile, one that would make me smile too, even when I was feeling my worst. I felt so much safer during my first months here knowing that I could always go to him for advice, support, and guidance. Willie, thank you so much for making me feel welcomed and loved here at Mudd. I love you and I miss you.

Emily Beese '17

Co-proctor / friend

Willie was a Proctor with me. We spent so many hours together during training and fun hangouts. Every time I interacted with him, I respected him more. He always brought his best! He was so brave and took on many responsibilities that I would be afraid to take on. Recently at a Proctor meeting, he was even more bold, taking a risk and telling the group more about himself. I really connected with his experiences, but was never brave enough to tell the group. But he inspired me to take risks so I went to tell him that we should talk more about these experiences we had in common. He thanked me and said that maybe we could do that sometime. We never got to talk more, but I’m really glad I talked to him then.

He was always so loving and caring towards me! He made us all laugh a lot!!!! A great example was in the Proctor Skit rehearsal when he really struggled to tap Ellie on the shoulder at the right time, but always laughed it off! Here’s the video of our final skit, which I really enjoyed watching to see Willie in it and remember the good times. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bW_gn6ySFaE&list=WL&t=4s&index=3

I don’t know how to deal with this, but know that you’d want me to be brave and to keep smiling. <3

Felipe Borja '19

Friend, mentee, SPLS familia

Willie approached every situation with a sense of calmness and gentleness. I would always see him around campus when I headed to and from class and he always asked how I was doing and would inquire as to my classes, well being, and life outside of academics. I can’t remember many moments where he was not smiling, and his trademark wave (palm open and slightly in front of him, hand moving side to side) was a frequent sight happy sight from across Mudd’s grass and pavement. He has such a generous spirit and he loved to pursue his passions inside and outside of the classroom.
I first met Willie through CLSA. It was so nice to be able to meet an individual so invested in the well-being of others and that day he let me know that if I ever needed to talk about something, he would lend a listening ear and a compassionate heart. I took him up on the offer several times and we would talk about academic and social issues at length. Willie always kept a positive attitude despite the circumstances of life and the personal relationships he established among the students, faculty, and staff inspired me to develop more relations of my own. Willie made Mudd feel like a real home. His genuine, calm, caring attitude was a constant and I’m going to miss that so much.
I miss you Willie. I love you and I miss you.

Sam K Miller '17

A Good Friend

Willie was undoubtably one of the nicest, easygoing, caring, and positive guys I’ve ever met. I unfortunately didn’t quite get to know him well until Junior year, but when we finally started talking, hanging out, and wiling around on weekends, it was some of the best times I’ve had at this college. If times were bad, he could cheer me up or at the very least put up with my negativity, an unstoppable force of smiles and that all so special “ashshshshshesheehehe” laugh that we heard so much of. And whenever we’d run into each other in passing, even just a greeting from him would hit the spot.

When we would get into shenanigans, whatever we were doing he was loving every second of it. He loved to go out, and thus the name “Wiler Willie” was borne. But on the mellower side of things, no doubt, we had some fantastic conversations about the future, family, the merit of this breakfast food we were eating, or how many times you can listen to a song before it gets old. He sure loved music, and I don’t say that about many people. I remember over the summer after I showed him a new artist, I could hear him playing it from his room while I was listening to my own music in my room, two doors down the suite. This went on for at least a week. We jammed together – we both played guitar and both loved thrash metal, a rare connection around these parts. We weren’t professionals but it sure was fun.

Willie loved learning new things and experiencing new experiences. He was always down to try new things, go new places, and as many have said, loved his studies and work. Sometimes we would go on “Wiler Walks,” just wander around the campuses and see who we run into or meet, with no plan in mind whatsoever. And he loved meeting new people, seeing what wisdom or entertainment they had to share. He was a fantastic listener, ready to consider whatever you had to say.

In the spirit of his creativity, I remember when he and some friends towards the end of the summer decided to make ice cream cones but instead of ice cream, it was mac n cheese, and also cheeto dust was involved. My mind was blown. The dude had determination too. At some point we bought a medium sized inflatable pool, but didn’t have the right tools to blow the majority of it up. For the body of the pool, the opening was clearly too large for a mouth to blow in. No problem, Willie almost singlehandedly inflated the pool anyways, even after I had given up hope. I learned a good lesson about the power of lungs that day.

I hope in the future that Willie’s soul and spirit can guide me to be a more open, caring person, like he was. Looking back, he was an amazing role model, someone anybody can learn from, almost like how he was so ready to learn from everyone. I feel guilt for every moment I wasn’t my best towards him, because he always forgave me, and was always his best towards me and everyone.

It feels weird writing this as text but Willie, if you’re seeing/hearing this, we miss you, and don’t stop doing you, bud. We love ya, man.

Hao Cao '17

Suite mate, classmate, friend

Willie was a very caring and warm person. No matter what troubles me, after talking with him, I always feel safe, supported, that everything is going to be OK. We procrastinated together; we go to class together; we struggle together; we laugh together. He is always there for me. I will always cherish those late night talks, sharing our views of the world. He was so proud of his little brother, Andrew. He showed us Andrew’s album when we were out for dinner. I don’t have a brother, but if I did, I’d wish him be like Willie. I miss you dearly, my friend.

Djassi Julien '20

He was my Proctor

I remember when Willie moved into my suite during the Summer Institute. He would always come out when we were doing math homework and try to help us, even though it had been a very long time since he’d done epsilon-delta proofs. Nonetheless, he struggled through it with us every night, and then stuck around for our suite meetings when he could’ve been sleeping the whole time. Willie was always so kind, so willing to do whatever he could for others. I was so excited to be living in Atwood with him as my Proctor this year, and I can’t imagine going through this year without him. He inspires me, even now, to spread love, joy, and opportunity to the world because that’s what he would’ve done. I will always love you Willie, and I miss you.