Senior Niamh Rolston was the most “lighthearted and carefree” person Meelah Harkness — Niamh’s childhood friend — said she had ever met.
“I strive to be as optimistic and overjoyed and adventurous as she was,” Harkness said. “There was never a dull day in her life. There was always something going on.”
While Niamh and Harkness had serious conversations — Harkness said Niamh was an “open and active listener” — the two also laughed a lot.
“I don’t remember a time when she [Niamh] and I hung out and didn’t crack up laughing,” Harkness said.
Niamh, in her humor and sympathy, was a “light,” Harkness said.
“Something in her nature — she always wanted to make people smile and feel good,” Harkness said.
The two didn’t need to see each other all the time to remain close, Harkness said. Niamh was like a sister to everyone she met.
There was a familial quality to Niamh, and she made people feel comfortable and open, Harkness said.
“She always made people feel at home and happy,” Harkness said.
The two could talk about anything, ranging from boys to feelings about friendship, Harkness said.
“She [Niamh] was the first friend I could admit genuinely anything to,” Harkness said.
Through open communication, Harkness said Niamh showed her what an open communicator could do and how communication can strengthen and deepen relationships.
“She was one of the first if not the first friend I considered family,” Harkness said.
One time, Harkness, Niamh and their friends all had a sleepover together in Harkness’ bed, Harkness said. Harkness’ mother said she couldn’t believe the girls were all squishing together on the bed and offered her bed to the girls, all of whom turned it down.
In the morning, Niamh was nowhere to be found, Harkness said. When she found her, Niamh was curled up next to Harkness’ mom — a symbol of how close the bond was between the two girls.
“She showed me what true friendship and sisterhood meant,” Harkness said. “She really implemented it in a positive way.”
Niamh’s father, David Rolston, said at the memorial service that Niamh’s “fearless love” of travel and meeting people were a part of her.
Niamh had her first passport as an infant and had traveled to Ireland to meet family by the age of one. She had “boundless energy,” David Rolston said.
“She was quick to offer her friendship and embrace new people, and she was never shy about telling her family and friends how much she loved them,” David Rolston said.
From when Niamh was a child, she made a lasting impression on others, David Rolston said.
“We know so many wonderful people, and they were brought into our lives because Niamh had in some way touched their hearts,” David Rolston said.
Niamh shone, David Rolston said.
“We [David and Niamh’s mother, Tracy Rolston] saw her in a way that she did not see herself with her big eyes and/or her youth and her beauty, and she seemed to have been blessed with everything that was the best part of each of us,” David Rolston said. Niamh’s mother is the Associate Vice Chancellor, Advancement Services at Pepperdine.
Niamh was someone to lean on, Graziadio student Briana Labe wrote in a Nov. 1 email to the Graphic. Everything Niamh did “was done with a smile on her face.”
“Niamh is someone who shows up for her friends when it matters most,” Labe wrote.
Labe and Niamh went on trips together, visiting Cabo, Vegas and NorCal, Labe wrote. On these trips, Niamh was joyful.
“She appreciated the little things and loved to capture the sweet little moments that mean so much to look at now,” Labe wrote.
Friendship with Niamh was effortless, senior Emily Chase, senior reporter for the Graphic, said.
“When I met her, it was like, this is like, this is my sister; you know, like, the cliche sorority thing,” Chase said. “But also, at the same time, it just felt very comfortable — very, like, I didn’t have to try to be friends.”
Niamh taught Chase to “go with the flow more,” she said.
“She definitely left me with a sense of carefree happiness that I was definitely stuck without for a while because of COVID and end of senior year and all of that,” Chase said.
Niamh “always knew the right thing to say,” Chase said.
“No matter what happened, whenever I had a problem or I needed to just get something out — I didn’t even want advice — she would just be such a good listener, and she would give the best advice,” Chase said.
After talking with Niamh, Chase said she would feel like she was “back on track.”
While it’s OK to cry, Chase said, when people think of Niamh, they should carry her joy and light with them.
“They should remember her [Niamh] as a person to walk with, a person who brought joy to everybody she met,” Chase said. “They should smile when they think of her because she left such an impact on the people that she loved and loved her.”
Niamh showed Harkness how to be open, honest and communicative, Harkness said. This open communication impacts Harkness, who is a Communication major, even now.
“I thank her for showing me how to efficiently and openly and compassionately communicate,” Harkness said.
Niamh is her guardian angel, Harkness said.
“[I will be] really implementing thoughtfully and mindfully the qualities she had and taught me that I may have overlooked and taken for granted before,” Harkness said.
While Niamh didn’t know exactly what she wanted to be, she approached the future with an open mind and open arms, Harkness said.
“I want to remember her through telling everyone I love that I love them,” Harkness said.
When the Rolstons learned they would have a little girl, they began looking for names that would connect her to her Irish heritage, David Rolston said.
“From the moment I heard the name spoken, Niamh was the only choice,” David Rolston said. “And in Gaelic, it actually translates to ‘radiance.'”
The name Niamh comes from a Gaelic myth in which a man sees a beautiful young princess riding a horse toward him and asks her name, David Rolston said.
“And she [the princess] answered in a sweet and gentle voice, ‘Noble king of the Fianna I am the daughter of the King of Tír na nÓg [the land of Youth], and my name is Niamh,'” David Rolston said.
After this exchange, the two rode off to the land of never-ending youth together, David Rolston said.
In grade school, Niamh complained to her father that no one knew how to spell or pronounce her name, David Rolston said.
“All I could do was say, ‘Well, Niamh, I am sorry, but at least people will remember how hard it was to spell it,'” David Rolston said.
As Niamh grew up and encountered others, her feelings about her name changed, David Rolston said.
“‘Well, you were right, Dad,'” David Rolston said, quoting his daughter. “‘People do remember me — I am the only Niamh they know.'”
Harkness and Niamh met when they were 4 in kindergarten, and while Harkness said they didn’t connect at first, the two went through first to fifth grade together.
The two ended up going to a different middle school but reunited in eighth grade, when Harkness reached out to a friend who went to the same middle school as Niamh, Harkness said.
The three hung out together all the time, and because it was bat and bar mitzvah season, she would often see Niamh at the events, Harkness said.
The two went from merely seeing each other in elementary school to being attached at the hip after visiting their elementary school’s Ren Faire, Harkness said.
“We just loved being in the presence of one another,” Harkness said.
The two also spent a weekend in Newport Beach together, soaking in the sun.
“We got so sunburnt,” Harkness said. “I have a stark image of this picture we have in the mirror of us lobster red.”
The two were constantly at the beach, Harkness said. They visited Malibu, Santa Monica and Venice.
When the LMU tour guide mentioned Melrose Avenue was in L.A., Harkness said she and Niamh looked at each other and laughed.
Getting dropped off at Melrose Avenue and taking trips to The Grove was a big part of their life, Harkness said.
“That’s been our entire middle school and high school experience,” Harkness said.
Niamh and Harkness toured Pepperdine together, Harkness said. Harkness attends college at Loyola University in Chicago.
“It was a stark contrast to when she was at LMU being like, ‘Ehhhhh,’” Harkness said. “To her being in her element at Pepperdine.”
Niamh loved Pepperdine and the people there, Labe wrote. Niamh wanted to go to Graziadio for graduate school with her friend senior Aubrey Lewis, and Labe was going to show them around and introduce them to the faculty.
“Niamh was intentional, fun and had a very bright future,” Labe wrote.
Niamh brought her personality with her to Pepperdine, David Rolston said. Despite classes being remote her first year due to COVID-19, Niamh became close with her sisters in Alpha Phi.
“Her superpowers were this huge, ready smile that she had and a heart and a mind that were very wide open with empathy and joy in living today,” David Rolston said.
The friendships Niamh created — especially with Peyton, Asha and Deslyn — left an impression on her, David Rolston said.
“Niamh Rolston, the Pepperdine senior, had grown into an ambitious and serious student so much more confident and self-assured than the Niamh that had taken her first online class as a 17-year-old freshman,” David Rolston said.
Junior Maya Ozbek, Niamh’s sorority little, said she met Niamh her first year, during recruitment. Ozbek said they always wanted to plan more time to hang out.
“Whenever she [Niamh] saw me, she would always give me a big hug,” Ozbek said.
Niamh was always open to spending time together, Ozbek said.
“She was the nicest person I knew,” Ozbek said. “Everyone has great things to say about her.”
Niamh was often upbeat, Ozbek said.
“She always had a smile on her face,” Ozbek said. “And that’s how I remember her.”
Niamh inspired Ozbek to “come out of her shell” a little more, Ozbek said.
“I tend to be really antisocial, and just seeing how she’s able to have so many friends and just always put a smile on people’s faces — that’s something that she inspired me to do,” Ozbek said.
Niamh was a friend to many, Ozbek said.
“I would like her to be remembered just as a sweet soul,” Ozbek said.
Chase and Niamh met their first year at a dinner for first-years, she said. The two began talking and just connected.
“The first time we ever met, it was just like [a] kismet kind of thing,” Chase said. “We both didn’t know each other. We both didn’t know anyone here.”
Hanging out with Niamh was an “adventure,” Chase said.
“I don’t ever remember a time with Niamh where we didn’t say, ‘We’re gonna laugh about this one day,’” Chase said.
Chase said she has a playlist of songs from her first year, many of which remind her of Niamh, especially “Deja Vu” by Olivia Rodrigo.
Niamh had a big impact on Chase, she said.
“I mean, she was my first college best friend and, like, my closest one, and so it’s like, those formative years of, ‘Who am I going to be in this chapter of my life; what am I going to be like?’” Chase said.
The color purple reminds Harkness of Niamh, she said. So, to pick a song to describe Niamh, she suggested “Purple Rain.” The two listened to a lot of rap together and listened to a lot of country music.
Niamh wasn’t defined by just one genre of music, Harkness said.
“She was everything all in one,” Harkness said.
Cherries also remind Harkness of Niamh, who had a cherry bathing suit and phone case, Harkness said.
Niamh was a “silver jewelry girl” and loved to shop, Harkness said. Niamh worked in Aritzia for four years.
“She [Niamh] reminds me of Bambi,” Harkness said. “Always so open-eyed and curious.”
Harkness said Niamh was an “angel on Earth” and is an “angel looking down upon us now.”
“I just want to say that I love her,” Harkness said. “And her absence in this world is going to be truly noticed and is not to be forgotten.’
Chase said she sees Niamh in the color blue, flowers, the beach and “Grey’s Anatomy” — which Chase began rewatching this summer.
Chase also sees Niamh in girl best friends — especially when they are sharing a joke, she said.
“[I see Niamh in] people smiling, laughing because she just had the most infectious laughter; like, when she was laughing, there’s no way you’re not laughing — either at her [or] with her,” Chase said.
Niamh impacted everyone around her, Labe wrote.
“With her big smile and contagious laugh, it’s rare she goes unnoticed in a room,” Labe wrote. “Niamh made me feel so welcomed into her life and friends. I will carry her with me everywhere I go.”
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Contact Samantha Torre via Twitter (@Sam_t394) or email: firstname.lastname@example.org