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Alumni Take Their Remembrance Experience Beyond Graduation

Six former Remembrance Scholars continue to honor those lost in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 and reflect on how the scholarship program has shaped their lives and careers.

Students and Hendricks chapel

Tori Cedar ’18 has the symbol “20D” tattooed on her left wrist. She sees the symbol each morning, as she puts on her watch, and it is one of the last things she sees at night. This ritual reminds her of her connection to Alex Lowenstein, and her mission to act forward in his name.

Lowenstein was one of 35 students, studying abroad through Syracuse University, who died in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, on Dec. 21, 1988. The terrorist bombing took the lives of 270 individuals—259 onboard the plane and 11 on the ground. The number, 20D, was Lowenstein’s seat on the plane.

In the year after the bombing, Syracuse University established two scholarship programs. The Remembrance Scholarship Program awards scholarships to 35 students in the spring of their junior year, and they serve as Remembrance Scholars during their senior year. The Remembrance Scholarships are funded through an endowment supported by gifts from alumni, friends, parents and corporations. Significant support for the Remembrance Scholarships has been provided by C. Jean Thompson ’66 and Syracuse University Board of Trustees Chairman Emeritus Richard L. Thompson G’67, H’15 in memory of Jean Taylor Phelan Terry ’43 and John F. Phelan, Jean Thompson’s parents; the Fred L. Emerson Foundation; and Deborah Barnes and Syracuse University Board of Trustees Chairman Emeritus Steven W. Barnes ’82, H’19.

Through the Lockerbie-Syracuse Scholarships , two students from Lockerbie, who have finished their secondary education, study at Syracuse University for one year. They return to the United Kingdom to continue their university studies or other professional pursuits. These scholarships are jointly funded by Syracuse University and the Lockerbie Trust.

Leo Wong speaks into a microphone at a remembrance ceremony
Leo Wong ’14 speaks about Pan Am 103 victim and Syracuse University student Steven Berrell during the Rose-Laying Ceremony at Syracuse University in 2013.

The Remembrance and Lockerbie Scholars plan the annual Remembrance Week activities held during the fall semester and pledge to “look back and act forward” in all they do. Since the inception of the scholarships, 1,050 Remembrance Scholars and 60 Lockerbie Scholars have been selected and carry forth their Remembrance experience into their lives in both professional and personal ways.

Julie Anne Friend ’91 was in the inaugural cohort of Remembrance Scholars in 1990-91, and remembers well the news of the bombing during her sophomore year. “I was in the process of writing my application to study abroad at the Strasbourg Center for the following academic year. Despite the tragedy, I was not deterred,” she says. “I even wrote my application for the scholarship program while I was abroad.”

Friend’s study-abroad experiences as a student led her to work first as an instructor of English as a Second Language, and later transition to higher education and study-abroad administration. While in that role, she developed an interest in health and safety, and began to specialize in travel risk management. She also went to law school. “One of my jobs was to develop emergency response protocols, and in that, I reflected on my time at Syracuse and the impact terrorism had on us as students,” she says.

In 2005, she led Michigan State University’s response to the London Transit bombings, and that experience shaped the next phase of her career. “I called on the field to be better informed of the geopolitical environments where we send students, support research and build branch campuses,” she says. While at Michigan State, she became the third person in the country to have a full-time role in higher education travel health, safety and security and helped to develop the new specialty. Today, Friend is director of the Office of Global Safety and Security at Northwestern University and has over 140 counterparts in the United States and Canada. “While no one like me could have predicted or prevented what happened on Dec. 21, 1988, we do strive to make university travel safer,” she says. “By working to educate and prepare students as thoughtfully as possible for their school trip—whether it be to study, work, perform, compete or do research— we widen their access to information, perspectives and cultural understanding, which can perhaps help to lessen the likelihood of terror attacks in the future.”

Erin McLaughlin ’07 came to Syracuse University in 2003 as a Lockerbie Scholar, and was the first of three Lockerbie Scholars who stayed on at the University to earn a bachelor’s degree. She was a Remembrance Scholar in 2006-07, representing Turhan Ergin. Today, she works as a diversity program manager at Microsoft in Redmond, Washington, and volunteers with the Alzheimer’s Association.

“The scholarships allowed me to always remain focused on the positive,” she says. “Out of something so tragic, long-lasting and strong connections have been created and I think that’s very important as we grow and spread across the world that our positivity and connections continue,” she says.

Katherine Frega and fellow scholars making sandwiches for charity
Katherine Frega ’16, center, and her fellow Remembrance and Lockerbie Scholars make sandwiches for a local community organization during Remembrance Week in 2015.

Katherine Frega ’16, represented Ergin during the 2015-16 academic year as she earned a policy studies and biology degree. She is currently a fourth-year medical student with the intention of becoming a gynecological surgical oncologist. She also serves on the board of the Alliance for Fertility Preservation as a patient and legislative advocate to increase fertility coverage for cancer patients.

“The Remembrance Scholarship defined my senior year. It expanded my worldview and experience at Syracuse by making friends with people from all different walks of life,” Frega says. “As a child of two alumni who were impacted by the Lockerbie bombing, it allowed me to connect my own Syracuse experience with theirs.”

Leo Wong ’14, who majored in advertising, served as a Remembrance Scholar in 2013-14, when the 25th anniversary was observed. He worked for advertising agencies in San Francisco and New York in diversity and inclusion roles, and is now working in his family business in Las Vegas. He also serves as an adjunct professor, as content director of Gold House (a collective dedicated to furthering the Asian diaspora’s societal impact and cultural legacy), and facilitates career preparedness workshops. Additionally, Wong is vice president of Syracuse University’s Generation Orange Leadership Council , which focuses on engagement with young alumni.

Wong represented Steven Berrell and developed a strong relationship with the Berrell family that continues to this day. Remembrance continues to be woven into all he does. “The tagline of the Remembrance Scholarship Program ‘Look Back, Act Forward’ has always resonated with me. As my life progresses, I continue to reflect on past successes, learnings and missed opportunities, but I don't dwell on them. Instead, I look forward to the future armed with plans of action and the ambition to create positive change.”

The scholarships have helped many to reach their full potential. Fred Carranti ’92, G’94, associate professor of practice emeritus, was a Remembrance Scholar in the 1991-92 academic year. He was a 39-year-old junior studying mechanical engineering after leaving a two-decade career in industry. He was able to fund one semester of study, but anything after that was uncertain.

“Then this scholarship, this wonderful gift came along, and allowed me to continue,” he says. “I completed a bachelor’s degree. I did well enough to earn University support through graduate school. I went back to work, but remained at Syracuse University teaching on the ‘night shift.’ In time, I was able to leave industry to become an educator and, ultimately, a proud member of the Syracuse faculty.”

It has come full circle for Carranti now, as he is a member of the Remembrance Scholar Selection Committee. “I am able to give something back. I get to meet the best and the brightest, and I am witness to a process that never fails to bring them out,” he says. “The selection process and, in particular the interviews, are an absolute joy. It restores our faith and energy.”

As for Cedar, remembering the young man who sat in seat 20D will always be an integral part of her life. Cedar is working on a doctorate in school psychology and directs a summer program working with young adults with Down syndrome and their peers.

“Being a Remembrance Scholar has impacted me in ways I truly can't explain. It's hard to put into words what the experience is like. It's growing to love a person who you feel is equivalent to a best friend, but who you have never met, and you know you never will. This experience teaches you about life, death, unity, trauma and dedication to change,” she says.

“Most importantly, Alex influences me every day to, if nothing else, try to always bring genuine warmth and sunshine to each person I encounter,” Cedar says. “If each of us could just open our arms a little more to each other's differences, we'd find out we're all actually a lot more similar. Alex continues to teach me about this each and every day.”

Kelly Rodoski

This story was published on .

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