Fortunately, I did call and visit them, and will never forget how warmly they greeted me in their grief. The house full of family and friends should have been celebrating Christmas Eve, but instead was mourning the loss of a son, one with so much talent and promise. I quietly told them of a memorial service SAE was planning for Gary in Syracuse in January and was pleased that they would plan to attend. Shortly before I left, I cautiously told them one of a dozen or so funny stories about Gary that I had thought of in the days following the bombing. Their reaction told me my caution was unnecessary. I should have provided them with upbeat memories of Gary and the people he touched from the moment I walked in the door.|
The Colasantis' grief was shared that day by the families of 270 victims, 35 of them with ties to Syracuse University.
I think about the disaster that punished these families and our campus quite often.I think about it every time victims' friends and family members are made part of the story. I remember the poor mother writhing in agony on the floor at JFK Airport, which TV news people callously beamed around the world. I sometimes wonder if the Syracuse alumni who permeate the news business have that same memory before they show hysterical parents arriving at the scene of a schoolyard shooting.
I think about it every time I see a group of young people traveling together on some adventure. I think about it every time I travel internationally and have patience at security checkpoints that I seldom exhibit anywhere else.
I thought about it when Chancellor Eggers died, recalling the grace he showed representing us all. I think about it during graduation season, remembering my own commencement and the presence of the mayor of Lockerbie.
I think about it every time terrorists strike, wondering whose god could possibly be served by the death of innocents.
I think about it every December, and wonder why I have gone another year without writing to Gary's family to tell them that I think of him and of them.
Kevin O'Neill '89 is
a marketing consultant in Atlanta.
Picture, if you will, 35 Syracuse University students walking softly, single file, down the center aisle of Hendricks Chapel, each carrying a small lighted candle. The students gently place the candles along the front of the stage so they form a glowing ring. Then they take their seats.|
So begins the most poignant campus gathering of the year: the ceremony recognizing the 35 new Remembrance Scholars. While it is a celebration of their achievements in the classroom and community, memories of the 35 victims of the bombing of Pan Am 103 are constantly with those in attendance. Thoughts of what might have been for those victims are ever present. Grief often overwhelms pride in the achievements of the living, and tears flow freely.
Parents of many of the victims return to campus for this ceremony. These parents, who have suffered so much, find comfort in the achievements of the Remembrance Scholars. The parents give strength to the rest of us, who can hardly bear to meet their gaze.
The ceremony lasts an hour or so. Chancellor Shaw speaks. A member of the selection committeerepresenting the faculty and staffspeaks. And one of the 35 Remembrance Scholars speaks on behalf of the group. The chapel choir sings. Each scholar is then called to the stage to be recognized by name. The ceremony is followed by a reception, where the sadness is swept away by the scholars' optimism as they look forward to finishing their senior year and getting on with the business of life.
For the many high-achievers in the SU student body, winning a Remembrance Scholarshipwhich is worth $5,000 toward senior-year expensesis the capstone to an academic career. The grapevine wisdom on what it takes to win a Remembrance Scholarship is quite accurate, so considerable self-selection occurs. Students know strong classroom performance is mandatorya grade point average of at least 3.2, and often much higher. But grades alone don't admit one into this circle. Remembrance Scholars should embody the qualities of exploration, volunteerism, and achievement that marked the lives of the 35 victims.
Typically some 200 students apply for the 35 scholarships. They fill out lengthy applications that ask them to describe their academic achievements, their work experiences, and their volunteerism.
The heart of the application is three essay questions. The first asks what lessons can be drawn from the bombing for today's world. This tests their awareness of current events and their grasp of political and terrorist developments. The second essay asks why the applicant believes she or he is Remembrance material; specifically, how the life the applicant has lived matches the spirit of the victims. The third essay permits applicants to profile themselves and discuss the cultural, intellectual, and familial influences that have shaped their lives. |
The 200 written applications are given to a team of 24 selection committee members. Twelve are SU faculty or staff members, and 12 are current scholars. They are divided into six teams of four persons each. In round one, each team reviews between 30 and 35 applications. The teams select the top 10 or 11 for advancement into round two.
Each finalist is then interviewed by a team (one that didn't review the paper record). These interviews can be stressful affairsand are meant to be. The judges want to explore each candidate's sincerity, sophistication, breadth of knowledge, and grace under pressure. We look for that fire in the eyes that identifies a person sure to make a significant contribution to society. The entire group of judges then discusses the candidates and makes the final 35 choices.
Shortly after the bombing, the University received some significant donations to launch this scholarship program. But the majority of the 35 are still funded from the general scholarship pool. This yearto mark the 10th anniversary of the bombing as well as the Commitment to Learning campaignSU is seeking to attract additional gifts to support the scholarships.
Donors can be confident that their gifts support seniors who exemplify the best this University has to offerstudents with a sense of history who will build communities, students who have taken up the important work that the victims of Pan Am 103 were not permitted to finish.
David Rubin is dean of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and serves as chair of the Remembrance Scholars Selection Committee