Angelina Justiniano was preparing to graduate in December with a master’s degree in library and information science.
She was about three months into her internship at Pizzo Elementary School, where she was working with children and managing the school’s media center.
Her boss Gary Golomb, a media specialist at Pizzo, was already trying to secure a job for her when she finished and was speaking with principals from other schools about a position. She wanted to be a librarian.
But Justiniano, 25, died the morning of Oct. 11 in a car accident on Interstate 75.
“She’s the only graduate assistant I hired based solely over the telephone (interview), based on her energy and enthusiasm,” said Mel Pace, associate director of the School of Library and Information Sciences. “We had talked about three times, and on the third conversation I said, ‘Look, just come down and we’ll take care of you.’ She was a ray of sunshine in every room that she entered.”
On Friday, friends and family gathered at Holly Hill Funeral Home in Middleburg to pay their respects.
Friend Kristin Burnside presented Justiniano’s family with 14 e-mails posted by students and faculty on the school’s online forum.
“People that hardly knew her sent messages,” Burnside said. “People that took a weeklong computer class that she taught sent messages, and there were several people who had had a difficult time learning because they were in their 40s, so for an older crowd they said she was extremely patient.”
Burnside befriended Justiniano in 2003 and the two worked as graduate assistants in the School of Library and Information Sciences.
“We kind of hit it off right from the beginning because we had the same sense of humor,” Burnside said. “I remember just how funny she was and that everything was funny to her. If you were ever irritated or had a bad day she’d always be smiling. I don’t think she ever had a bad day.”
Justiniano was driving north on I-75 near Bradenton when a pickup truck hit the back of her 1999 Pontiac, forcing her to spin into two other vehicles, according to an article in the St. Petersburg Times. She was not wearing a seatbelt.
During her internship at Pizzo, Justiniano gave an orientation to 1,000 students, organized a student morning news show every morning and was responsible for directing students to the right van for after-school programs.
“She was always very happy, hardworking and dedicated,” Golomb said. “She was extremely fun to be with and a very responsible person. One time I wanted her to try and teach the whole day without having to say the word ‘quiet,’ but to get the children to do what she wanted. It wasn’t until the end of the day when she was reading a story to a group of children, that she read a word that had the same meaning as the word ‘quiet’. One of the children asked what the meaning of word in the story was, and I was working in the back and had heard the kid’s question. I saw Angela turn her head to see if I was looking, and then she whispered the meaning of the word to him and we both kind of laughed.”
Faculty and students from the School of Library and Information Sciences as well as staff at Pizzo are planning a memorial service to take place on the USF campus in November.
In addition, Pace said the school and the Florida Association for Media and Education are working to set up a scholarship program for graduate assistants in Justiniano’s name. A new graduate assistant’s suite will also be named after her.