Lisa Burgoa (SFS ’19) always had a gift with words. Whether she was comforting a friend during a difficult time, teaching English to her mentees at D.C. Schools Project or writing a story that sent shockwaves across campus, Lisa was thoughtful and generous with her language. “She always knew the right combination of words to pick me up when I was feeling down,” Sara Burgoa (COL ’21), Lisa’s younger sister, said.
On Jan. 27, at 22 years old, Lisa died. Affectionately called “Leezy” by her close friends, she was a loving sister and daughter, intimate friend, talented co-worker and wise mentor to innumerable people around her.
“She truly embodied unconditional love. She was the kindest person I’ve ever met — and that’s no exaggeration,” Shannon Theobald (COL ’19), one of Lisa’s closest friends, said.
At Georgetown University, Lisa was known as a devoted friend, passionate reporter for The Hoya and dedicated tutor with DCSP.
Celine Calpo (COL ’19), Lisa’s best friend, lived with Lisa in Darnall Hall 410 as part of the Explore D.C. Living Learning Community. Calpo said their inseparable bond began when she unpacked a Vampire Weekend poster, which was one of Lisa’s favorite bands. The duo lived together all four years at Georgetown.
Their time living together revealed Lisa’s quirks, like an intense love for ketchup, Calpo recounted.
“She’s going to hate me for this — but one time she toasted a waffle and put ketchup on it. She ate ketchup with almost everything: She ate it on toast, she ate it with chicken, French fries,” Calpo said. “I just think the waffle thing was the most incriminating instance — it’s just so great. She was a Heinz fan.”
Reminiscing on what Lisa meant to her, Theobald remembered her infectious laugh and witty sense of humor. She also noted her passion for food, music and deep chats.
“Lisa is eating too much dark chocolate and dancing around the living room. Lisa is late night, raw, honest conversations,” Theobald wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Driven by Justice
Lisa’s love of language began young as she grew up speaking Polish with her mother and Spanish with her Bolivian father, she explained in her college essay, published by HuffPost in 2015. Born in Utah, Lisa spent her early years in Santiago, Chile, before moving to Texas, Oklahoma and finally south Florida, where she attended high school.
Throughout her childhood, Lisa embraced her rich cultural heritage, which remained central to her identity throughout college. Even before attending Georgetown, Lisa relished the opportunity to explore her background.
“I found myself persisted by the same questions that shadow all immigrants – preservation versus assimilation, English versus the language of my ancestors,” Lisa wrote in her essay. “I traced the dual-ethnic features of my face, the green eyes reminiscent of the toothless old women in flowered babushkas I met in Poland, the long, flat nose and sun-kissed tan skin recalling my Incan ancestors in Bolivia. My heart, I realized, beat the one word that was the same in any language: Lisa. Lisa. Lisa.”
At Georgetown, Lisa cultivated her intellectual curiosity by studying international development, inequality and labor issues. She was driven by a commitment to social justice, according to Calpo.
Beginning freshman year, Lisa spent every Saturday morning tutoring for DCSP, a mentoring and advocacy program that allows students to tutor English language learners across Washington, D.C. Lisa was inspired by her Bolivian heritage and immigrant background to give back to her new community.
“Tutors came and went every semester, but Lisa was a constant rock of the program for years,” fellow DCSP tutor and close friend Bethania Michael (SFS ’19) said.
Lisa’s generosity inspired others around her to follow her lead in attempting to alleviate social inequality.
“It was through Lisa that I got involved with the DC Schools Project — she encouraged me to tutor and later even coordinate the program she tutored in. I can say with a lot of confidence that Lisa was one of the best tutors DCSP has ever had,” Ruby Vega (SFS ’20), Lisa’s Darnall neighbor and close friend, wrote.
Social issues also permeated Lisa’s passion for story-telling. As a writer, she gravitated to stories that unearthed silenced topics.
“Lisa told a lot of stories that needed to be told that no one else was willing to tell,” Maya Gandhi (SFS ’19), former editor-in-chief of The Hoya who worked with Lisa as a deputy editor, said in a phone interview. “She was both an incredibly bold investigator but also really willing to uplift stories that no one else was paying attention to.”
Writing From the Heart
At The Hoya, Lisa was admired as a talented writer, diligent editor and inspiring mentor. Throughout her three years in the newsroom, she moved from working on the neighborhood beat and city news in the News section to running the Opinion section and then developing an in-depth Features unit. She was seen as a legend and caring mentor in the newsroom.
Lisa’s impact at the newspaper was immeasurable. From serving as an integral part of The Hoya’s GU272 investigative reporting team in Maringouin, La., to curating an internal newsletter that uplifted stories of staffers from diverse corners of the paper, Lisa was essential to improving The Hoya’s content and culture.
“These newsletters were a work of art in themselves — detailed, insightful, human, always with a funny title. A lot of times our work was thankless and full of stress, but Lisa used these newsletters to publicly shine a light on the people who were doing the work,” former Senior News Editor Aly Pachter (COL ’19) wrote in a message to The Hoya.
Former Editor-in-Chief Ian Scoville (COL ’19), who joined The Hoya at the same time as Lisa and saw her produce and edit countless stories, remembers her raw talent and skill.
“My predecessor as Editor in Chief used to always say that Lisa should have his job, as well as everybody else’s,” Scoville wrote. “Lisa was not only the most talented writer, but the most humble, down to earth, and nurturing leader.”
Former Chair of the board Marina Tian (NHS ’19) echoed Scoville when remembering her first impressions of Lisa through a comment by former Editor-in-Chief Toby Hung (COL ’18).
“My earliest memory of Lisa is from a production night during my time as Guide Editor, when Toby mentioned to the room in passing that Lisa was going to win a Pulitzer one day,” Tian wrote.
One of Lisa’s many legacies at the paper will be her conviction that The Hoya’s work had an impact. She taught staffers how to use their stories to spotlight injustice and report on silenced topics. Her personal work is a reflection of this ethos, which ranged from investigating remains of enslaved people found under Arrupe Hall to interviewing students involved in sex work.
Yet for Lisa, writing was not just a way to deliver the news but an essential art form, which Pachter described as “beautiful, haunting and never-quite-finished.”
“I think what I learnt from her is to try to make my writing have a purpose and be beautiful and artistic. Not just journalism for the sake of reporting, but journalism for the sake of writing,” former Executive Editor Christian Paz (COL ’19) said.
Lisa dreamed of being a writer despite her time spent on a campus with a decided pre-professional bent, according to Hoya colleague and friend William Zhu (COL ’19).
“The quality of her work was stunning. Her skill at prose was incredible,” Zhu said. “She wanted to write fiction books eventually. I am just sad I won’t get to read any.”
Lisa firmly believed that excellent writers had to be avid readers. She was attached to her Kindle, and among her favorite things to read were Jewish folklore, true crime novels and magazine profiles. She was also a huge NPR fan and known to give customized book recommendations to her closest friends as gifts for the holidays.
“She cared about literature – God, she was always reading. She cared about stories – I think that’s why she loved journalism. She cared about finding different sides of the truth,” Theobald wrote.
Lisa continued her passion for writing after graduating from Georgetown. She joined the speech writing firm West Wing Writers as an associate, where she wrote speeches for high-profile politicians.
“There for me when I needed someone the most”
For everything that Lisa can be remembered for, the loyalty and comfort she gave so many of her friends and family will be missed the most.
She inspired all her friends to be kinder people through her actions, according to Hanh Nguyen-Le (SFS ’19), one of Lisa’s first friends at Georgetown.
“Lisa taught me to be kind to people,” Nguyen-Le wrote. “She cared about others through sharing chocolates, gifting books and sending articles. Her bed was always available for others to crash on and her room was always available for people to come in, even just to find a safe space or use her mirror.”
Calpo and Lisa were like songbirds — they would constantly sing Vampire Weekend and Cat Stevens lyrics back to each other while studying and routinely say her trademark greeting “Morning beaut!” while setting her alarm on snooze for five more minutes.
“Lisa made me really soft,” Calpo said. “She always told me she loved me and I would never hesitate to say I love you back.”
Julia Friedmann (SFS ’19), who worked with Lisa in a honey and tea shop in Eastern Market, acknowledged Lisa’s humility and tenderness.
“I think Lisa embodied so many qualities that most of us wish we could have,” Friedmann wrote. “She was there for me when I needed someone the most. She always lifted me up, and so many others around her, and it’s going to be hard to move through life without someone as truly good and creative and smart and kind as Lisa.”
As Sara Burgoa reflected on her sister’s special character, she noted that Lisa’s memory will carry her forward.
“The world lost a really brilliant and thoughtful person and those of us whose lives were graced by her friendship, love, and kindness should feel grateful to have known her,” Sara Burgoa wrote. “Though it feels really painful that I’ll never get to see her again, I’ll think of her whenever I read a good book, listen to a beautiful song, or hear a funny joke. Lisa inspired me to be the best version of myself that I can be.”
On her flight to D.C. after she learned about Lisa’s death, Theobald saw the most radiant rainbow that reminded her of Lisa’s shining spirit and the lessons she imparted to her.
“More than anything I want to embody her kindness. Her thoughtfulness. Her love. Lisa never hesitated to say I love you. Lisa taught me that family is chosen, and she will always be mine,” Theobald wrote. “Her last lesson to all of us is to take care of ourselves – to tell all the people we care about how much we love them. I love you, Leezy.”