Burlington, VT| Molly Mcghee | 1031Words

“Alexa Rivera told the first MOTH story ever performed at Champlain College. She had that bright spirit of being the first one to jump off a cliff, with everyone shouting at her from behind,” Poetry Professor Jim Ellefson said.  “Imagine somebody trying to fall off a horse and the horse would have none of it–that is Alexa Rivera.”

Alexa first came to Champlain to attend Champlain’s Young Writer’s Conference the summer before her freshman year. Her ultimate goal, however, was to use the Writer’s Conference as a leg up on her application to the University of Vermont. During a visit to her home in La Grange, New York, she confided over a mug of steaming hot chocolate, “I realized very quickly that Champlain was the place I belonged.”

“I felt like I was in church, listening to her tell her MOTH story,” Ellefson said. “The kind of church I would visit when I was a little boy in Louisiana. She put her story together and the crowd lifted her up and then she lifted up the crowd. Alexa came back as a freshman and has been tearing things up since the beginning. Within such a short period of time, she became such an integral part of the writing community–It got to the point where she would be a must have at the open houses.” 

Due to fiscal issues, Alexa had to withdraw from Champlain half way through her sophomore year. “My parents are too embarrassed to talk about it,” she said as she walked out of her house the first morning, into the cold New York air. The four feet piles of gray snow on the ground were just beginning to melt. The snow banks were up to her knees. Alexa stepped over a patch of thin ice covering her front step and sighed, locking the door, “It’s hard. My mom’s jewish, my dad is Puerto Rican, they were taught not to talk about this type of thing with their kids. I try to bring it up and my mom starts crying and my dad changes the subject. I don’t think any of us know what to do.”

Her freshman year Alexa led MOTH readings, poetry readings, worked at the center for diversity, spoke at open houses, won an award at the CCM awards dinner for her CORE performance, was on the dean’s list, and participated heavily in community service. “It went by quicker than I would ever have imagined,” she said. “You always hear about time speeding up when you’re older but I think college must be a magic spot in your life. I learned so much in that one year, I met so many people.” 

Alexa’s Sophomore year she was hired as a peer advisor on campus, worked within the Service division at LEAD, won an award for performance and enthusiasm within her department, and continued to excel in academic and the writing community at Champlain.

“Alexa was often the first to Volunteer for things,” said Maggie Melvin, director of the Service Track within LEAD department. “I feel very comfortable saying that without exaggerating. She led double the events the other students led. When other students had conflicts come up, when no one was available, Alexa would be the one to say, ‘I’ll do it.’ So remarkably so that people who were not in my office knew about Alexa’s involvement in both the Champlain and the Burlington Community.”

Her mother, Robin Rivera, nursed her own cup of vanilla chai tea as the pair sat at their kitchen table, “As soon as Lexi stepped on Champlain’s campus she lit up. Her father and I knew at that moment we would have to figure out how to get Alexa to Champlain. We tried and,” she looked down at her mug, “ultimately we did our best. It hurts, knowing you can’t give your baby what she deserves. You think you’ll be able to provide for your children and then–” Mrs. Rivera looked away, out their porch window into their small New England backyard. Their christmas tree was still sitting idly on the porch. She stirred the contents of her tea gently with a stick and wiped the rims of her eyes. “Excuse me. I don’t mean to cry. It’s still very hard to talk about. When you have children you never consider not being able to afford their dreams.”

“Alexa is very considerate of others. She has an intense talent for writing but also an ability to connect with all kinds of people,” Ellefson said. ”In my classes I try to let students know that the class is a place where they can experiment, a place where they are safe to explore more complicated aspects of their identity and Alexa? She’s somebody who’s sitting in the classroom who, in her own way, is facilitating all of that.”

“The thing that really sticks out to me was during Alexa’s second time at the Champlain Young Writer’s Conference,” said Ellefson, “when she came back as a mentor. I would say something like ‘look a workshop leader is lost and she needs help’ and maybe it might be during dinner, or it might be a time towards the end of the day where no one feels like helping, and Alexa, she wouldn’t hesitate she goes, ‘I’ll do that, I’ll take care of that person, I’ll make that copy, I’ll take care of that student, Sure I’ll show this student the place they’re going to, Of course I’ll show the parents where to pick up the coffee.’ And she does it without hesitation, selflessly, time after time after time. Its like she’s getting paid a million dollars to do it. She is a radiator of goodwill.”

“She’s a young woman,” said Ellefson, “with an intense talent for writing and she’s also somebody who is able to connect with all kinds of people. She is a light, a beacon, and I’m afraid to say it, but almighty, without her here the campus is a little bit darker, a little less bright.” 

“Even though I wasn’t able to come back,” Alexa said, resting a small hand on her mother’s shoulder, “even though I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to come back—the education I received there was more than any one person could ever ask for.” She gave her mother’s shoulder a squeeze and wiped lightly at her eyes, giving a self-conscious laugh. “And I am so thankful for that opportunity. I am so thankful for the time that I spent there but now it’s up to me to take my education into my own hands. No matter where I end up,” she said smiling, “I will always know that Champlain is my home.”