June 6, 2005 At 10:30 Monday morning, with a sun that couldn't quite bring itself out, hundreds of teenagers, along with others, gathered together in Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral to say farewell to their friend, 17-year-old Rhondi Rivas.
Almost the entire student body of All Saints Cathedral School, where Rivas was to graduate June 17, was there along with parents, teachers, family and friends. The cathedral was filled to overflowing, with some 30 or so mourners standing in a silent vigil on the cathedral steps as the sounds of "Amazing Grace" poured through the doors.
Rivas died early on the morning of May 30 when the vehicle she was driving plunged into Charlotte Amalie Harbor. Her best friend, Rachel McCoy, was in the auto with her, but she was unable to undo Rivas' seat belt in time to save her friend. (See "Funeral Set for Student Who Died in Waterfront Accident").
The overwhelmingly sad and sudden death has taken its toll on the community, from friends, from family, and from those who simply were struck with compassion. "I just stated crying," one woman said, "I didn't know her, but I know how her father must feel, losing his child."
Rivas' father is Ronald Rivas. His wife Delores, Rhondi's mother, died from cancer a few years ago. She also had an older brother, Oren Stephen.
Both left messages for Rhondi in the handsome funeral booklet filled with tributes and tears.
Her father said in part, "Your smile was my light, your laughter my sunshine, your dreams were my mission….Now, my life is going to be different, but I know that you'll never leave me. Like always, you'll be right behind me sharing your thoughts with me. I'll just have to listen a little harder."
Stephen's said, "You are my angel, sister and best friend. I will never stop missing you. I can't wait to see you again."
Rachel McCoy wrote a loving, tender and personal tribute to her best friend. The pain under which all of these tributes were written echoes on every page. McCoy put a postscript on her message: she thanked all the people who attended an impromptu candlelight ceremony on the waterfront the night after Rivas died. She also sent a special thanks to those involved in the effort to rescue her friend.
Rivas went to All Saints for almost her entire school career from kindergarten on, except for the 10th grade at Antilles School, but she returned to All Saints to be with her lifelong friends, according to the booklet. She was a four-year member of the University of the Virgin Islands Upward Bound program. The last page of the booklet is a tribute from "Your Upward Bound Family."
Rivas was captain of the school's Arawak Cheerleading Squad, and had planned to attend Florida International University in the fall to pursue a medical career.
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull attended the ceremony, along with several senators, many of whom knew Rivas from a summer job she held last year in the office of Sen. Celestino A. White Sr.
Perhaps Rhondi Rivas summed up the morning ceremony best, herself, in a quote included in the booklet: "God has given me the greatest gift in the world! He has given me the ability to love. It is a wonderful feeling being able to love my family, friends, boyfriend etc. It's amazing, the gift of l-o-v-e."
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