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Friday, August 12, 2022

“To be her friend was to feel true joy.”: In Honor of Sabrina Marie Obando

Deceased UF graduate awed her friends and professor with wit, kindness and intelligence

To be Sabrina Marie Obando’s friend was to be showered in love, laughter and light. 

Madison Bushloper, her close friend, recounted their relationship as stronger than a family member. 

“She never failed to bring out the best in everyone,” Bushloper wrote in a text message. “I always felt my most vibrant and joyous when in her presence.”

Obando, a 22-year-old Miami native, graduated cum laude in Fall 2021 with a degree in art history. On Jan. 4, Obando was hit by a pickup truck while she was crossing the sidewalk around 12:30 p.m. on the intersection of Northwest 8th Ave. and Northwest 10th St. Following the crash, she was transported to UF Health Shands Hospital where she died from her injuries.

“Sabrina wanted more than anything else for her friends to truly feel how much she loved them,” Bushloper wrote.

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Photo of Sabrina Obando

Others like her roommate Sarah Ernst, felt instant connections with her. 

Even though Obando was reserved, Ernst said that was OK, because she was the same way. It would take time to crack open her shell. 

“Our energies were pulling us together. And from that point on, we just really became best friends,” Ernst said.

After meeting in a group chat, Obando and Ernst spent their freshman year getting closer. The two moved in together in 2019. 

Ernst is framing Obando’s artwork for a celebration of her life for her friends Jan. 15. 

Obando’s inclination toward art shined through in their house decorations. She painted abstract works of swirling colors, still life and even a portrait of Tony Soprano. She turned her bedroom into a work of art itself with posters, photos and knick-knacks.

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“Our house is full of furniture and artwork and things that we did and I think it's because it has more meaning,” Ernst said. “It gives me a lot of like solace to be there just because everything means something to us.”

Obando’s friendship was the greatest of Ernst’s life.

Obando’s death comes among several other fatal pedestrian crashesin the last few years. Mark Merwitzer, president of Florida Not One More, noted that the intersection she crossed had been cited as a hazard. 

“I think we need to have a serious community conversation about how we should make our streets safer going forward,” he said. “So that this does not happen again and not one more family has to go through what Miss Obando’s family has gone through.”

The loss of Obando meant the loss of her distinctive sense of humor. 

Basel Hussein, a 22-year-old UF architecture senior and close friend of Obando, dressed-up  Obando’s Barbie-esque Michael Jackson doll in crochet outfits. The two laughed often and hard. They felt like children together, they said.

Obando's taste in just about everything, from music to clothes, was eclectic and uniquely her. She listened to ’80s music, hyperpop and house. She especially adored Michael Jackson. 

“Joy is the best way I could put it,” Hussein said. “There really were no walls or barriers [in] what we would do or laugh about.”

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Artwork by Sabrina Obando.

Obando also adored SOPHIE and Lady Gaga, going so far as to stock up on the limited edition Chromatica Oreo’s when they came out in early 2021. She thrifted many of her clothes and did makeup expertly. 

Erica Allen knew her love for makeup from shared experiences as the front-of-house manager at Crane Ramen, where Obando worked since August 2021.

When a punk music festival came to Gainesville Halloween weekend, Crane Ramen was ready to be slammed with customers. However, rain and gloom prevented the crowds and left the staff with little to do. Obando found an outlet.

Obando, who had dressed up as a bunny complete with face-paint and ears, painted another staff member’s face with excitement. 

“She looked so happy,” Allen said. “She was so giddy and excited that someone was letting her do their makeup.”

Obando’s professors took notice of her intelligence. 

When she spoke up in her “What is Desire?” class, assistant professor Pietro Bianchi listened closely. 

She gave thoughtful, precise and intelligent commentary on all the topics they explored in the class, where students analyzed the concept of desire and sexuality through film and literature. When she took the class in her last semester, Fall 2021, Bianchi knew she was special. 

“She was one of the most brilliant and smart [students], not only that I had in this class, but I think that I've ever met in general among all the undergraduate students that I have met since I started to work at UF,” he said.

Her final paper explored the film Lost Highway (1997) by David Lynch, a director notorious for macbre and mind-bending cinematic experiences. Bianchi, who analyzed the film himself, was blown away by her investigation of its themes. 

“She gave interpretations of this film that were so interesting and surprising and original that it's one of those cases where even as a professor, you learn something from your students,” he said.

Bianchi wasn’t the only one in awe at her intelligence. Obando spoke three languages: English, French and Spanish. She and her friend Charles Karcher would text in French to keep up their skills.

The two met when Karcher and a friend formed the UF Young Democratic Socialists of America in 2019. Obando joined the club when it first started, and a friendship formed from their shared passion for remedying societal issues. 

“She cared about things like social justice and socialism and stuff,” Karcher said. “It was definitely a part of her personality that brought us together.”

The two protested when Charlie Kirk, a conservative radio talk show host, came to speak at UF in 2019. They also advocated for a livable wage by protesting Aramark — a food supplier to UF that uses prison labor. 

When the club fell apart, Obando and Karcher didn’t give up and got back to activism work when the pandemic started. They found themselves consistently disappointed in UF’s response to COVID-19, including its lack of a mask mandate and vaccine mandate.

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Photo of Sabrina Obando.

Obando connected with others over their shared morals. Liel Zoran, a 20-year-old UF psychology graduate met her in a philosophy class and frequented the same political circles. 

“She's this kind of person that when you're around, you just feel at ease. You just feel peaceful because you know that you don't need to worry about trying to be someone that you're not,” Zoran said. “She was the type of person that just made me feel so accepted.”

Obando’s friends and family set up two GoFundMes to raise money for funeral expenses and flying Obando’s body back to Miami. As of Sunday, they raised $14,889 of their $10,000 goal. Another fundraiser began Jan. 7 and has raised $5,000 of their $25,000 goal by Jan. 10.

“She was a bright spark in the world taken far too soon, and she will be deeply missed by all who had the privilege of knowing and loving her,” the GoFundMe read.

Contact Allessandra Inzinna ainzinna@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @ainzinna. 

Correction: This article was updated to reflect the correct spelling of Sarah Ernst. The Alligator originally reported differently.

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Allessandra Inzinna

Allessandra is a third-year journalism major with a minor in English. In the past, she has covered local musicians and the cannabis industry. She is now the Student Government reporter for The Alligator. Allessandra paints and plays guitar in her free time. 


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