Last May, Rose Bui was too ill to attend her University of Mississippi graduation. In June, the young UM scholar lost her battle with cancer, and hundreds of grieving students, faculty and staff struggled to cope with their loss.
This May, Bui's UM friends and classmates plan to celebrate her life and present her diploma to her parents, Chen and Nhiem Pham Bui of Biloxi, during a public ceremony at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 14, in Paris Yates Chapel on the Oxford campus.
"We hope the celebration will provide closure for many of her friends and faculty, who were unable to make it to the service on the coast," said JoAnn Edwards, who, as director of forensics at UM's Lott Leadership Institute, got to know Bui during her freshman year. "While she was ill for a year, the end seemed so sudden."
Bui, a vivacious and popular 22-year-old, was studying in China three years ago when she became ill. Afterwards, her friends and classmates remained at her side almost constantly through lengthy hospital stays and convalescence.
"Most of her friends will tell you that Rose was special," Edwards said. "She was drawn to people, and they were drawn to her - like a magnetic field. She crammed more experiences in her young life than most of us will ever experience. She never passed up an opportunity - be it interpersonal, academic or professional. Because of that, she had quite a collection of friends from all age groups, both genders and all ethnicities. She brought out protective instincts in most people who knew her well, and if any one of us were asked, 'Why?' we couldn't tell you. We just knew that this person was a treasure, one meant to be cared for and cherished. This celebration is a way of sharing her with the world, of documenting her existence and lasting impact."
At UM, Bui was a Carrier Scholar and Croft Institute for International Studies Scholar. She was a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, as well as Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Kappa Phi honor societies, among others.
A member of the inaugural (2000) class of the Lott Leadership Institute, she participated on the Ole Miss Forensics Team.
An international studies major, Bui made three separate trips to China while at Ole Miss and was one of only 35 college sophomores selected nationally in 2003 to receive a fellowship with the Institute for International Public Policy.
Besides serving as a vice president for the Croft Student Senate and in other leadership roles, Bui volunteered with several community service organizations, including Habitat for Humanity and the College Republicans Children's Book Drive.
For her long list of academic achievements and leadership experiences, Bui was inducted into the UM Hall of Fame in spring 2005.
Edwards said that just as Bui was endlessly involved with bettering the UM community, six classmates were tirelessly involved with supporting Bui during her illness.
"When Rose was in Oxford, these six kids took her to doctor's appointments, kept a log of her treatments and medications and literally gave up their beds for her," Edwards said. "When she was in the hospital in Jackson, they would go to class, go to work and take turns driving down there to make sure a friend was with her in the hospital every night. They were all graduating and getting ready to move away from each other, and they just wanted to be with her."
Those classmates were Emily Diez of New Orleans, Allison Fewell of Sumrall, Sara Jolly of Vicksburg, Rachel Noel of Ocean Springs, Corey Rogers of Pearl and Holly Turner of Moss Point.
"One of my best friends was in trouble, in need, and we just wanted to do whatever we could to help," said Noel, who graduates from UM May 13, as does Rogers.
"We just hope every person would do the same to help a friend," Noel said.
It was the constant support of those six friends that inspired others to become a part of Bui's support group.
Besides many other students, including two injured in a one-vehicle accident while on their way to visit Bui at the UM Medical Center, the support group grew to include Vice Chancellor for University Relations Gloria Kellum, Dean of Students Sparky Reardon, mathematics professor Bill Staton, Croft Institute director Michael Metcalf and his wife, who let Bui stay with them when she needed a place with few people around because of her compromised immune system, and Student Health director Barbara Collier, who "was so helpful in interpreting all things medical for us," Edwards said. "The Chancellor's Office was really incredible, providing help for students traveling back-and-forth to the hospital every day, so she would not have to spend one night alone," Edwards said.