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The Back Story: Valerie Pida Plaza

Cheerleader's courageous battle with cancer inspired the entire campus.

UNLV History  |  Dec 10, 2012  |  By UNLV News Center

Valerie Pida during the dedication of the plaza that bears her name in May 1991. (UNLV Photo Services)

There are plenty of UNLV alumni who can be seen as true Rebels at heart -- people who embody the scarlet and gray. But few lived up these statements to the level of Valerie Pida. She's the UNLV cheerleader for whom the plaza outside the north entrance to the student union is named.

Pida was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease, a lymph node cancer, at the age of 13 and battled the disease while attending UNLV from 1985 to 1991. In 1987, as a UNLV cheerleader, she postponed treatments to cheer on the Runnin' Rebels basketball team in its Final Four appearance and was featured on a CBS News segment during the game. Newsweek magazine later named her an "Unsung American Hero." Former UNLV President Robert Maxson referred to Pida as "the spirit of UNLV." And in 1988, Las Vegas Mayor Ron Lurie, declared Jan. 24 Valerie Pida Day.

The plaza was dedicated to the former homecoming queen and Delta Zeta sorority sister in 1991. It was the first time a student had received such an honor. In May of that year, Pida was well enough to attend the dedication ceremony and cut the ribbon. She passed away on Nov. 10, 1992, at the age of 25.

In 2000, the plaza was rededicated when students raised money for a plaque to sit in the plaza between the Flora Dungan Humanities Building and the student union. During her time at UNLV, the community raised $150,000 for her medical expenses as well.