By Olivia Overman
On July 31, 2017, Cristina M. Weir of Manassas, Va., was murdered in her Denver, Colo., apartment as the result of a home intrusion. Twenty-eight years old, in her prime, working at her dream job where she had the opportunity to travel all over the world, Christina’s life was taken all too soon. But it is what her family and friends have created since her death that will be her lasting legacy. Described as vibrant and caring, Cristina’s love of learning is being passed down to another generation through the foundation established in her name, The Cristina M. Weir Foundation for Excellence in Education.
The Cristina M. Weir Foundation for Excellence in Education
Established in 2018, the foundation was created through funding raised on a GoFundMe page Cristina’s colleagues at Velocity Global created. The campaign yielded more than $30,000. “It was a way to make sense of what happened, almost a way to bring light to a terrible tragedy,” said Tricia Pietravalle, acting executive director of the foundation and the person who gave Cristina her first official job after college. According to Pietravalle, the money raised for this 501(c)3 organization is being used just as Cristina would have wanted it to be – to help high school students through positive support and encouragement.
Cristina faced numerous obstacles growing up in Prince William, but she knew that the key to beating the odds in life, particularly when they are stacked against you, was to focus on education. Christina was a 2007 graduate of Stonewall Jackson High School in Manassas, and the foundation is currently working with the high school to provide scholarships to assist students facing economic hardships.
“I was unable to provide much for her and her brother and sister,” said her mother, Michele Weir. “She took care of herself financially while in school …Cristina didn’t miss a beat. Grades didn’t drop; socially she was stronger than ever.” The foundation is set up to show students like Cristina that they are not alone and to let them know they are noticed.
Along with a committee of eight educators at Stonewall Jackson High School, the foundation has chosen three award categories for its 2019 inaugural scholarship program: Excellence in Academics, Excellence in Leadership and a Promise Award. The winner of each category will receive a $500 scholarship. “These awards are intended for use with experiences that help students achieve their leadership, personal and educational goals,” Weir said.
Eligible sophomore students will receive notification that a teacher has nominated them for one of the scholarships. It is then up to the student to apply within the two-month application window. Scholarships are expected to be awarded at the 2019 high school fall banquet, giving the foundation time to work with institutions, such as the Smithsonian, to help find relevant programs for winners. But it is not just the money that will assist these students. It is “Cristina’s network of friends and family,” Pietravalle said.
Cristina Weir’s Is a Life to Celebrate
During her time in high school, Christina completed the IB curriculum, carrying a workload that was comparable to college level. Her first trip abroad, she and the school orchestra traveled to Scotland. “Cristina went to local businesses and raised the funds to travel with her friends,” said Pam Ruoff, Cristina’s godmother. It was during this trip that she developed an interest in other countries and their cultures. In 2006, she was chosen to represent the U.S. as an ambassador in the People to People program, an international travel program for students. She visited Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, France and England.
Cristina started working at Starbucks in her junior year of high school, primarily because she needed to help her family financially. In her senior year, she applied to several colleges and was accepted to The College of William and Mary on a full scholarship. She received a degree in International Relations, specializing in post-Soviet studies, and graduated in 2011.
Her first job was with a D.C. firm, CG/LA Infrastructure, when Pietravalle, then managing director, saw something she liked. Pietravalle offered her an internship. “She was genuine, down-to-earth, sincere and had a mind like a sponge,” she said. “After [just]three weeks, we knew we would hire her.”
Later, as a part of the Velocity Global team in Denver, Co., Cristina’s teammate and friend, Alexandria Warren said, “Cristina was a vital member of our team, culture and the Velocity Global family. She loved the international business space and was passionate about meeting her clients’ needs, even when it called for late hours to ensure they were not impacted by time zones. Cristina was a dear friend whose intelligence, empathy and integrity will always be remembered. We love and miss her every day.”
Weir said, “Cristina was the first in our family to get a college degree. My husband was a high school drop-out and then earned his GED, and I worked right after high school. Between scholarships, grants and federal funding, Cristina had a full ride to The College of William and Mary. She graduated with a 3.51 GPA, even with working a few days every week for spending money. Her graduation was the highest milestone of our family.”
More information about the scholarships and fundraisers for the foundation can be found at cristinamweirfoundation.org.
Olivia Overman ([email protected]) is a freelance writer for both online and print organizations. She earned a M.A. in Journalism and Public Affairs from American University, Washington DC.