Alexander “Alex” Vallejo, who was a senior at Emory University and is remembered by friends and family as a caring person who never ran out of topics to discuss, died on Sept. 16, 2022 at 22 years old. He is survived by his parents, Cathleen and Vicente Vallejo, and his brother, Andre Vallejo (20C).
Alex was born on Jan. 3, 2000 in Sao Paulo before moving to Frisco, Texas. In 2007, his family moved to Marietta, Ga., where Alex spent the majority of his life.
According to Vicente Vallejo, people had no choice but to like Alex, even when he wasn’t trying to win them over. Cathleen Vallejo agreed, noting that Alex had a “natural charisma.”
“The world is a darker place without him,” Alex’s childhood friend Addison Bandoly said. “He brought happiness to everyone.”
Even as a kid, Alex had an unshakeable curiosity. Cathleen Vallejo said that Alex loved playing with toy trains, Legos and puzzles, and could often be found running around outside. He branched out near the end of elementary school, teaching himself how to do more niche hobbies like yo-yoing and origami.
Alex’s curiosity followed him into the classroom — he proved his intelligence early on, especially in math, according to his childhood friend Will O’Reilly, who is now studying mathematics at Georgia Southern University.
“Honestly, if it wasn’t for him rubbing off on me on that a little bit, then I probably wouldn’t be where I am today with my math courses and all that because he set the example,” O’Reilly said.
Soccer was also a constant in Alex’s childhood. He started kicking a ball around at three years old and never seemed to stop — he was on a team by age five and quickly became a skilled player.
O’Reilly — who was Alex’s neighbor and first friend in Georgia, according to Cathleen Vallejo — noted that soccer was the foundation of their 17-year-long friendship. Some of his favorite memories with Alex include getting a group of friends together to play soccer.
“He was the one that introduced soccer, and now soccer is my world,” O’Reilly said.
Andre Vallejo often played soccer with Alex, and the pair played on their high school’s varsity soccer team together when Alex was a freshman and Andre Vallejo was a junior. Andre Vallejo described Alex as a “skillful” player who excelled at passing and dribbling.
Kevin Irani (20C) was a senior in high school and the soccer team manager when he met Alex, who was a sophomore at the time. One day, Irani showed up to an exhibition match fully dressed in a soccer uniform, ready to take the field alongside Alex.
“Alex’s reaction was hilarious,” Irani wrote in an email to the Wheel. “In the last two minutes of the game, the coach actually put me in and seeing Alex’s radiant smile as I, who can’t play soccer at all, waddled onto a field of much more elite athletes was something I won’t forget.”
That same year, Irani traveled with Alex, Andre Vallejo and three friends to Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla. Irani recalled fond memories of goofing around with Alex during the trip, such as laughing at Alex and his best friend, Neal Seymour, for falling asleep on a playground overnight and buying hundreds of water balloons to tie to random vacationers’ doorknobs.
At home, Alex and Andre Vallejo bonded over a shared love for video games. Cathleen Vallejo added that her sons, who are 19 months apart, were always there for each other.
“We were very close — we never bickered or fought, or argued with each other,” Andre Vallejo said. “I know a lot of siblings will roughhouse and be mean to each other. We weren’t like that at all.”
When Andre Vallejo left for college, he said Alex quickly became a gym rat, working out two to four hours per day, five to six days a week. Seymour said that within a few months, Alex — who was always skinny and seemingly lived off of nothing but Publix chicken tenders, Sour Patch Kids and QuikTrip slushies — was “shredded.”
“He loved the science behind things,” Seymour said. “He just enjoyed doing research about what certain things do to your bodies. What chemicals do you put in your body that make certain outcomes? How can you maximize your gym time?”
Alex was also fond of photography and wanted to be a model, eventually booking a few gigs, Cathleen Vallejo said. He would do anything for the perfect shot, even if it meant jumping fences to have a photoshoot in an abandoned prison yard.
As Alex got older, Cathleen Vallejo said he developed a “passion for fashion,” especially shoes — he had almost too many pairs to count. Before he died, Alex told his dad his shoes were a necessity.
“He said, ‘Well, because I go to a lot of places, physically and mentally,’” Vicente Vallejo said, paraphrasing his son. “‘I do a lot of walking, physical walking and mental and spiritual walking. So I like to match my walking, physical and otherwise, to my shoes.’”
This continued in college, where he met Merissa Coleman (20Ox, 22C). Walking, Coleman said, eventually became their thing. They were both human health majors and grew close in a class with their mutual friend, Talya Kovalsky (23C).
“When you don’t actually need something to really do together, it’s just bouncing back and forth about the most random things ever, that’s … a hallmark of a friendship that’s not just circumstantial,” Coleman said.
Kovalsky was absent during the second day of class, but Alex spotted Coleman across the lecture hall. Although they had only spoken once before, Coleman said he excitedly ran through the seats to sit down near her and launch into discussion about a concert he recently attended.
“That’s when I realized that he was just a really genuinely nice guy, to be so enthusiastic to see me when I only talked to him once before,” Coleman said. “That was just how he was. Once he knew you, knew your face, he was ready to just chat about all sorts of things.”
Alex loved to talk about everything under the sun, from electronic dance music to academic debate, his friend Samantha Bernstein (23B) said. If Alex wanted to debate a topic she didn’t know about, Bernstein said he would show her YouTube videos before prompting her to share her opinion again.
“He was that type of person that was just very passionate about a lot of things,” Kovalsky said. “So once he would start talking about something he could go on and on about it for so long.”
Alex adored his pearl white 2017 INFINITI Q60 and loved going on late night drives where there was nothing to do but listen to music so loud that the car shook, Seymour said. He and Alex bonded over their love for cars, so after Alex died, Seymour bought his INFINITI.
“I’m going to at least make the most of what opportunities I have left, so keep the car clean, looking pretty and drive it fast is all he’d want,” Seymour said.
Alex also had a sense of adventure and loved to find the best places to watch sunsets. He was obsessed with the way the pink, purple and blue hues mixed together, Seymour said, remembering that Alex’s favorite spot was on the very top of a hotel next to the SkyView Atlanta ferris wheel. To get there, Seymour said Alex sweet-talked random hotel guests into letting him in so he could go to the patio, where a fenced-off flight of stairs led to the very top roof for maintenance. When no one was looking, Alex and Seymour jumped the fence and climbed the stairs.
Once they got to the top, there were no walls separating them from the concrete hundreds of feet below. It was beautiful, Seymour said.
“It would just be us,” Seymour said. “Legs would be dangling 30, 40 stories in the air.”
Bernstein, who is more introverted, said Alex would often push her to explore new places. She remembered that when Seymour was in town, Alex called her at 8 p.m. to ask her to join them at Topgolf. She declined, saying that she was tired and had a bad day. But Alex wouldn’t take no as an answer and showed up at Bernstein’s apartment later that night.
“He goes, ‘When you have a bad day, the best thing you can do is be around people who bring you up,’” Bernstein said. “That was really the push I needed.”
Alex’s childhood friend Loren Tsang agreed, recalling one of his favorite memories with Alex — taking an impromptu road trip to see AJR in Nashville, and after the concert, they sat in the car, watching the Nashville skyline while eating McDonald’s chicken nuggets and discussing the harsh feelings of loneliness.
“It reminds me of how fun and also how real our friendship was,” Tsang said.
Alex’s love for others, Cathleen Vallejo said, was not limited to humans — animals also held a special place in Alex’s heart, with his family even requesting donations to the Atlanta Humane Society in lieu of flowers. He adored his family’s cats, Pandora and Phoenix, and often talked about wanting to get his own orange kitten named Cheeto.
“I actually found out about his passing just two days before my cat passed away,” Coleman said. “He loved cats so much, so I like to think that my cat is hanging out with him. He got an extra cat up in heaven.”
Alex’s desire to care for the world pushed him to major in human health with a minor in nutritional science. His parents said he was determined to help future generations.
“It was just something inside him that drew him to caring so much about people in general,” Cathleen Vallejo said. “He truly wanted to make the world a better place for everyone.”
Alex took multiple classes with Assistant Professor of Human Health Christina Gavegnano, who noted in an email to the Wheel that although Alex was quiet in class, his presence was always felt.
“Although I never met his family, I hope they know that his time in my classroom, and the memories that his quiet but noticeable energy brought to my own teaching, will forever represent an indelible memory to my own first year of teaching,” Gavegnano wrote.
Alex was in the first class Gavegnano taught as a human health professor and always listened diligently, Gavegnano said, adding that when he raised his hand, he always had something impactful to share.
“He was a bright spot in my day, a constant in the classroom, always sitting in the front row,” Gavegnano wrote. “For these memories, and for his true care for our coursework and his own impact on others, I will always be grateful to Alex.”
Even when he did not feel good about exams, Bernstein said Alex would ace them every time, which she called “typical Alex.”
Alex is still going to receive his degree later this year, and Cathleen Vallejo said his family is “very, very happy and very proud” that he achieved his goal.
“I know that would have made Alex so, so happy and is making him happy,” Catheen said. “I believe that he can see what’s happening.”
Vicente Vallejo explained that although his son was “very intelligent,” he still faced moments of failure, just like everyone else — but Alex, Vicente Vallejo said, never let it get to him.
“He strongly, strongly believed in second chances and hope in trying,” Vicente Vallejo said. “You happen to stumble, you just get up and try. The next time it might not work either, so you just try again. And when does that journey end? Never because … if you walk with hope in your heart, you will never walk alone.”
Cathleen Vallejo agreed, noting that Alex took the everyday challenges of growing up in stride.
“He had said to me once that he felt like he had finally managed to struggle and break through his cocoon and finally emerge as a beautiful, carefree butterfly, just ready to explore the world,” Cathleen Vallejo said.
And when he did begin making his way through the world, Irani said Alex “spread immeasurable joy” to the mundanity of life.
“My sweet boy, your beautiful soul surrounds us and fills our universe,” Cathleen Vallejo said. “We marvel at your presence in the breathtaking sunsets, the carefree butterflies and all the random acts of kindness you’ve inspired in us all. We miss you, we love you, we will see you again.”
News Editor | Madi Olivier (she/her, 25C) is from Highland Village, Texas, and is planning on majoring in psychology and minoring in rhetoric, writing and information design on the pre-law track. Outside of the Wheel, she can be found listening to Hozier and Rainbow Kitten Surprise, binge-watching Criminal Minds or trying to pet the Emory cats.