Early last Thursday, recent UCSB graduate Melissa Portillo passed away at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital due to head injuries resulting from a fall off a balcony at a residence on the 6500 block of Cordoba Road in Isla Vista. She was 22 years old.
Portillo graduated from Eagle Rock High School in Eagle Rock, California with honors and first attended UCSB in 2008, majoring in political science while holding various jobs, including positions at Home Depot, Forever 21 and a coffee shop at the Santa Barbara Airport. A memorial in tribute to Portillo will be held this afternoon in the Church of the Recessional at Forest Lawn Memorial- Parks and Mortuaries in Glendale, California. Originally from the Central American country of El Salvador, Portillo’s parents came to the United States as immigrants and war refugees during the 1980s to seek a better life for their family, accord- ing to her brother Steve Portillo.
He said their family’s strong belief in work ethic led Portillo to be greatly dedicated to multiple responsibilities, both while in high school and college. Completing AP classes and a myriad of extracurricular activities in high school, as well as holding a part-time job at Jamba Juice, Portillo continued success- fully balancing work-related and aca- demic responsibilities during her time at UCSB.
“My parents only taught us to do those two things — you go to school and … you work hard and whatever you do, you give it a 110 percent [because] you have to work hard at what you do,” Portillo said. “She worked all through high school. As soon as she turned 16, she got a job … She had herself together, she knew she had a different task that she had to complete and she executed it at 110 percent. … She knew what time she had to do everything [and] she man- aged everything — she was very, very well-organized.”
While effectively managing priorities of schoolwork and financial responsibili- ties, Portillo still made time for friends and family, spreading her joyful and positive energy to all those around her, her brother said. “She was just a very loving, caring
person; she cared a lot about others. She took plenty of opportunities to make sure the next person was better off than they were before they met her,” Portillo said. “She had this aura and glow of like cheerfulness, always … Stay positive — that was her big thing.”
Mereca Galicia, a friend of Portillo’s from middle school, also described the UCSB student as sociable and outgoing in just the same way that she remained determined in achieving her major life goals.
“Even people that she met for like one day — she had an impact on … Her vibe, her smile [and] her energy, you know, was just so real,” Galicia said. “She was very driven … She knew how to go to school and still have a good time; she had her priorities set.”
As Portillo was just finishing up her last few classes, having already graduat- ed last Spring, Galicia said those around her will also greatly miss the gifts she could have brought to this world in the future.
“I feel like she was just so capable of so many things and now we can’t see what accomplishments she was going to do after she graduated,” Galicia said. “We lost such a good person [and] we don’t know what she would’ve done for us because it was all just taken; [it was] taken away from her.”