The Student News Site of Grayslake Central High School


The Student News Site of Grayslake Central High School


The Student News Site of Grayslake Central High School


Live Like Vicky: Remembering the Life and Legacy of Vicky Piela

Victoria Piela, known as Vicky to friends and family, was a 2023 graduate of Grayslake Central High School. Vicky was an excellent student, a member of the National Honor Society, and graduated Summa Cum Laude. Vicky was an accomplished runner and captain of the GCHS girls cross country team, active member of the school community, as well as a beloved friend, daughter, sister, and granddaughter. 

This past July Vicky passed away, leaving behind a legacy of love and genuine kindness. She will be forever remembered as a bubbly, bright, and passionate person by family, friends, and the community as a whole.

The Piela family describes Vicky as someone who “made spaces she entered brighter by just the bounce in her step and her radiant smile. [We] cannot emphasize enough her visible light, smile, and simple joy to just be. She lit up a room, radiated warmth and happiness, and had the kindest and purest heart.”

The Piela family said that Vicky was known for her “positive attitude, energetic personality, her upbeat approach to any challenge, and her unwavering support and loyalty to her friends.” 

“Relationships were incredibly important to her, and even while being very involved at school and managing a full schedule with her sports and clubs, she always made time for the people she felt closest to. Even in short conversations, she had a way of making people feel heard and valued. It was important to her to be very intentional and present for the people she spent her time with,” her family said.

Sometimes, Vicky could be “very shy,” but “she opened herself up to others quickly, and was very approachable and warm. She put others above herself and made sure she was a safe and comforting person for her friends to come to. She was adamant about not wanting to let anyone down. She was putting others before herself even when it came to competitive environments, and always encouraged her friends’ successes before her own,” her family said.

Vicky loved being in the presence of her friends and family, finding joy in the simplest things. The Piela family shared that “some of her favorite memories were of evenings spent sprawled on the floor laughing with her best friends, or curled up under a blanket reading or watching a movie with her family. She loved being around the people in her life. She spent many hours on FaceTime with her best friend when they were not able to be in the same space together. She liked to crawl under a blanket with her family and have a ‘reading corner,’ where everyone would open up their own books and just read together in the same space. She appreciated movie nights and family dinners. She didn’t have to be talking with others to feel encouraged and uplifted by their presence. Being with others meant so much to her.”

Vicky was an active member of the Grayslake Central ‘Ramily,’ taking on leadership roles in various PSP class projects and events, and volunteered as one of the MC’s for the 2023 Talent Show. Vicky’s family remembered how nervous she was to take on a role in the limelight. “She was very nervous to be in the spotlight, with the expectation to memorize many lines and present in front of a full audience. Vicky much preferred working from the sidelines and letting others be in the spotlight. She spent the week before the talent show practicing lines with family and friends, and stressing over the impending event.” 

Despite the nerves, and “amidst the encouragement of her classmates and closest friends, Vicky completely aced being an MC!” the Piela family said. “She was able to improvise when she slipped up on a line, and delivered everything she had memorized with grace and confidence. It was rare that Vicky shared the fact that she was genuinely proud of herself, because she was very cautious about coming across as overconfident or too self-assured, and always found it hard to fully believe in her own abilities. However, this event was so out of her comfort zone, that after it was over she was able to look back and reflect on the boldness and determination it took for her to get out on that stage. I think after that night she proved not to others, who had already known it, but to herself, that she was capable of doing hard and uncomfortable things. It just took time, work, and dedication.” 

Photo courtesy of the Piela family.

During her senior year at GCHS, Vicky began applying to and preparing for scholarships, the Rotary Club scholarship being one. “She couldn’t believe she had much of a chance or was even deserving of it, until she was selected,” her family said. “The day before the interview, she raided her sister’s closet for something professional, and talked for hours with her best friend about how incredibly worried and stressed she was about presenting herself in front of a panel. What she didn’t know was truly how transparent her warm and kindhearted personality was, and her seemingly effortless ability to win people over in a room. Her ability to make others smile and feel comfortable was truly unprecedented, and she didn’t even know the impact of that power.”

One value that continuously showed up in Vicky’s life and various accomplishments, was her self-determination and stubbornness to conquer a fear or obstacle, which she did time and time again. When Vicky was a toddler, she had a terrible fear of escalators. The Piela family said “she had to be carried to get up between levels at the mall. As she watched others, there came a moment where Vicky became bothered by the fact that this fear was hindering her ability to be independent. Even as a toddler, she took ownership of her fear and anxiety, and after some convincing, eventually stepped slowly and carefully onto the escalator holding her father’s hand. We were blessed to witness moments like this over and over throughout her life, but especially noticed her growth throughout her high school experience.” 

The Piela family noted Vicky’s growth in high school, saying “Grayslake Central was like this escalator for her, but with passing years we saw her excel in academics, find her social circles, and develop her love for athletics. We think her greatest achievement at school and beyond was growing into a smart, sensible, open-minded, emotionally-intelligent, well-rounded, and responsible woman with a big, warm heart open to all. We are incredibly proud of her academic accomplishments, sports achievements and the sense of belonging she found among her sports teams and the student body as a whole.”

Photo courtesy of the Piela family.

Vicky’s unwavering determination and fearless spirit accompanied her in all facets of her life. Even when hiking for 15 hours with her family in Poland in 2021, through steep switchbacks and a “near vertical climb with chains that none of us were prepared for,” the Piela family saw that Vicky still found a way to encourage others. “To this day I stand by the fact that Vicky’s unwavering positive attitude and energy got us through that hike,” said Natalia, Vicky’s sister.

Outside of her family and friends, Vicky’s light was obvious to anyone who encountered her. When the last bell rang and after-school activities began, Vicky was with her team. Chris Palmer, English teacher and assistant cross country coach, remembers Vicky “as an amazing person.” 

“I dare anyone to find someone that says the contrary, that’s how much I believe in that statement. She was kind, she was calm, she was supportive. She was simply the best. She never failed to make you smile and to make everyone around her better,” Palmer said.


Palmer remembers Vicky as an incredibly valuable member of the cross country team. “Even when she wasn’t having her best day, she didn’t let it faze her. When she didn’t perform to the standards she set for herself, mind you – these standards were ever evolving, she didn’t let it show. I was so proud of her relentless pursuit to better herself, while always taking the time to pick up those around her. She had so many friends, so many kids that were like family that she helped nurture.” 

Palmer runs the Chicago Marathon every year, and after Vicky’s passing, decided to run the race in a Grayslake Central jersey to honor Vicky and her incredible life. When asked about what led to this decision, Palmer said “I think it started when we wanted to honor Vicky and put a patch on the jerseys. Mr. Plach was huge in helping us make that happen. We gave him the ‘LLV – Live Like Vicky’ acronym and the color, and he came up with the design. I loved seeing the kids run in them and asked Coach Centella if I could wear one in the marathon this year and he was more than happy to let me.” 

Palmer reflected on the race saying, “I think I did it because even if they’re athletes and I’m the coach, we’re all mourning and we’re all part of the same team. I wanted to honor Vicky by running in it and I’ll wear it again in Berlin next September. I’ve decided I want to run in all the majors wearing it. In a strange way, it’s letting Vicky see the world she didn’t get to see. I know I’ve seen jerseys and homages to various people in races that I’ve run, and we’re all doing it for someone else. While running is a very solitary sport, it’s also a very tight knit community. I want to make sure Vicky is always part of that community.”

Photo courtesy of the Piela family.

Matt Bridges, a math teacher at Central, met Vicky during her junior year, when she first walked into his precalculus honors class. “From day one, I knew there was something special about her.  To this day it still makes me laugh to read in her ‘getting to know you’ survey that she is ‘shy’ but will warm up. I never saw the shy side of her.  She asked questions about my children and we connected on our favorite color, green, her email picture being Yoshi – where my boys love Super Mario, and Vicky made an effort to help give me pointers for my daughter who runs cross country in middle school.” 

Like many others who knew Vicky, Bridges immediately noticed Vicky’s vibrant personality. “Vicky was short in stature but nothing else about her fit that build. Her personality was larger than life. She beamed positivity, compassion and kindness.  She was a great classmate to her peers and a student I loved to have in class. Teachers who say they don’t have favorites are lying to you; Vicky quickly became a favorite. There wasn’t anything you couldn’t like about her. She lifted up everyone’s spirits, she was always smiling and loved life.  It was contagious and you couldn’t help but smile while you were in her presence. If you happened to be in a blah mood, Vicky somehow magically did or said something that would make you feel better.”

Even after Vicky left Bridges’ class, she still would find time to make him smile and laugh. “Even senior year, she would walk by me in the hallway during passing periods and greet me with a smile and check how I was doing.  She would randomly try to do some weird behind her back kick to take out my knees! Vicky was always smiling and laughing. Vicky didn’t walk the hallways staring at a cellphone; she had a unique bounce, not even a walk, about her as she bounded down the hallways. I will never forget it.” 

Vicky had an immeasurable impact on both the staff and students of Grayslake Central. When asked what the GCHS community should remember most about Vicky and her legacy, Chris Palmer said “I think all we would ask, her friends, her family, her coaches and teachers, is that we had a wonderful person in this building for four years. A person that touched so many lives by simply being kind. Our kids came up with the acronym ‘Live Like Vicky’ as a means to remembering the kind of person she was. At the end of the day, we should laugh and love more. Lean into kindness, try to relate to everyone around us. We’ll never regret being better to people. Vicky didn’t. It doesn’t matter what she did in sports or academics, Vicky was essential because of her humanity. That’s a note every single one of us can take and use.” 

Matt Bridges reflected on the empathy and genuine kindness Vicky carried with her in her everyday life. “Her compassion was beyond her years. Vicky exemplifies the type of person we need in our world.  She gave happiness and hope to so many.” 

To honor Vicky and her legacy, Bridges said “we all need to have more empathy. Be kind and care for one another. Push each other and yourself to personal excellence.”

Vicky’s determination, fearlessness, authenticity, brilliance, and warmth are qualities that we can all carry with us to honor her life and memory. 

Vicky’s sister, Natalia Piela, shared that Vicky would often come to her for advice and heart-to-heart chats about life. “What she never realized was how much she taught me about how to live. She was so incredibly full of love and life – she inspired others to be present, to be loving, to try new things, and to make the best out of every challenge and obstacle. She loved spontaneity, surprises, and was easy to cheer up – just buy her some instant Ramen or a bag of fruit snacks. She didn’t hold grudges or frustration for long because she knew it took her away from experiencing joy.” 

“She taught me life is lived more fully when experienced with others,” Natalia said. “She taught me to soak in every present moment, hold people close, and to laugh loudly. Vicky wasn’t just a beautiful sister and excellent running buddy, she was a best friend, a confidant, an inspiration, and someone I strive to be like.” As a school, community, and individuals, we should all try to live every day like Vicky. 


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