Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Changing the world

Last week I had the honor and privilege of presenting a scholarship award to a graduating senior at St. Paul (Minnesota) Central High School. Each year our class awards $5,000 scholarships to anywhere from ten to thirteen well-deserving students, all of whom we feel are worthy of that extra financial boost to make their dream of a post-secondary education become a reality.

This year we had thirteen scholarship recipients. Twelve of them were presented by another committee member. But I presented the thirteenth - a special award given in honor of my very dear friend and colleague, Laura Singher Turner.

Laura was a classmate in high school. Being a graduating class of over 600, she was someone I knew by name and face, but I didn't really know her as a person. After both of us played a small part in organizing our 40th class reunion, she invited me to continue being involved by joining the Scholarship Committee. I wisely took her up on it.

From then on, we became great friends, talking on the phone at least three times a week, meeting for lunches, and sharing scholarship duties, as well as our personal lives.

Laura took her scholarship committee role very seriously. Over the twenty years of our efforts resulting in over 100 student awards, Laura followed every single student personally.  She was the students' main point of contact for dispersion of their funds and so answered their questions, listened to their concerns and sometimes mini-crises, met them at computer stores to purchase a laptop, went to their homes if they needed an immediate check, got to know their families, and was often invited to attend their graduations and open houses.

The students loved her. They loved her emails of encouragement and wrote back of their progress and achievements, all of which she proudly shared with all of us committee members. In short, she was their Den Mother - or, quite literally, since she was Jewish, their Jewish Mother!

Laura Singher Turner

Sadly, we lost our friend and colleague very suddenly a month ago. Our program, our high school, our students, indeed our world, is less without her. We're not sure how to go on as she was truly irreplaceable, but we're trying very hard, as she would push us to do.

So we had our award ceremony as part of the school's "Senior Honors Night" last week where all scholarship awards are given and recognized. Laura's husband, sister and brother-in-law attended. We carried on, but were all acutely aware of her absence.

The special award I presented was the Laura Turner Scholarship Award. It was given to the student who best represented the ideals of equality and social justice Laura worked so hard to promote. Indeed, as applications from students were received, she always had her eye out for that student who wished to right all society's wrongs and change the world. And then she advocated strongly for that student.

We feel she led us in choosing just the right person, a lovely young woman headed to Hamline University majoring in social activism and nonprofit management. I'll be interested in following her as her mentor.

We all thank Laura for the great legacy she left for us, and the impact she had on the lives of countless young scholars.  She changed the world for them.