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Alta High grad remembered for legacy of kindness, friendship

SANDY, Utah -- Can you say you keep in touch, I mean really keep in touch, with everyone you were friends with in high school?

Life happens and the more time that passes, the more difficult it can be.

But for a 1999 graduate of Alta High School, those years and the friendships she made were the highlight of her life.

And now, after her sudden passing, her classmates are remembering the impact she made on their lives simply by being their friend.

"Everybody knew who Celesti was,” said Stefanie da Silva, a classmate.

With a spring in her step and a smile on her face, Celesti Ann Neilsen bounded through the halls of Alta High School each day on a mission: make as many friends as possible.

“It was her world,” said Mya Nielsen, Celesti’s sister. “It was all she talked about. Still to this day, she was reppin Alta Hawks.”

Seemingly unaware of her challenges, the student with special needs boldly asked the most popular boys to dances, busted out dance moves during school assemblies, and declared her deep love for the Backstreet Boys and New Kids on the Block.

Celesti called Stefanie da Silva, her very best friend.

“I think high school for Celesti, it was just a really good memory in her life and she just loved it so much and didn't want to forget about it, and loved the people,” da Silva said.

High school graduation came and went and life went on for her classmates. But not for Celesti.

She frequently called and texted her friends from school, wrote them on Facebook, and anytime there was a gathering, Celesti was there. Nearly 20 years later, all it took was a conversation, and it was as if they were both 17 again.

“I know that we have two more years, just because she would always tell me, we have two more years till our 20 year reunion,” da Silva said.

To say someone is stuck in high school doesn’t always have the best meaning, but for Celesti, high school was only about friendship.

“If she knew that you were associated with Alta High at all, then she was telling you stories,” said Tommy Bay, another friend. “”’Hey Tommy, remember when Joe took me to...' whatever. She told me a few times, 'Did you know that Joe took me to school every day?"

One boy in particular took Celesti under his wing of popularity.

Joe Neiderhouser, a student body officer, not only attended a dance with her, he quietly drove her to school each morning. They had a special bond.

Even their yearbook photos were placed one on top of the other. Joe died five years ago this month.

And, last week, Celesti suddenly passed away after a brief battle with meningitis.

“That’s such an amazing thought that they would be able to get together and relive the Alta High memories,” Bay said.

The online tributes from Alta High alumni have been pouring in, all from the friends she cared so much about.

“It’s incredible to see how many people she's touched,” Nielsen said of her sister.