On the James’ kitchen wall are the words, “Life isn’t a matter of milestones, but of moments,” a saying they’ve had there for 10 years and, in 2018, became the theme of their daughter’s salutatorian speech at Destrehan High School.
“Although we need to have goals, it is important to enjoy life each day,” said her mother Rebecca James. “Sarah did a really good job of balancing hard work, with having fun and taking advantage of all that life had to offer.”
She was doing just that when everything suddenly and tragically changed.
On July 16, their daughter was out with friends near the LSU campus, where she was going to college, when she was struck by an SUV crossing the road and died from her injuries. The Montz native, who was described as a giving person by family and friends, was studying biochemical engineering on a pre-med track.
She was only 19 years old.
Doug and Rebecca James were devastated, but became determined to remember their daughter.
In April of this year, less than a year after her death, they anticipate naming the first DHS scholarship recipient from the Sarah James Memorial Scholarship Fund.
“We think Sarah would be very happy about starting the scholarship,” Doug said. “My family had a similar scholarship set up in memory of my brother, and Sarah had commented how she thought that was a special thing to do.”
And it’s certainly special for her now in the outpouring of support for the fund with a total that most recently has exceeded $50,000.
“We were hopeful, but still surprised to have reached our initial goal so quickly,” he said. “The plan is to use the interest earned each year to pay for each year’s scholarship. Our hope is that over time we can gradually increase the amount that is awarded.”
Doug said they are overwhelmed by the financial support for the fund, as well as the emotional support they’ve received.
“We are very appreciative of every single donation, and pleasantly surprised along the way as we never knew from where they might come,” Rebecca said. “There were donations from such a wide variety of people.”
And Rebecca lovingly remembers them all, recounting how surprised, humbled and overwhelmed they’ve been by the generosity behind each and every donation.
Donations ranged from $5 from the teenage daughter of one of her childhood neighborhood friends whom they have never met to $5,000 from a group of their extended family members.
“We have received $1,000 donations from people who are currently putting their own children through college,” she said. “We had a significant donation from a young couple who are currently saving for their toddler’s future education. We have had donations from people who told us that they never met us or Sarah but were touched by hearing her story.
“We received many donations from kids that are currently college students themselves. The very first donation we received was from the childhood babysitter of Sarah and her brother.”
There are also the ways many honored Sarah, which also has meant so much to her family.
Professional singer Bridget Bazile dedicated her Christmas performance this year in New Orleans, called, “We Are Christmas,” to Sarah. The LSU Pi Beta Phi sorority donated 50 new children’s books to the Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital in Baton Rouge in her memory. St Charles United Methodist Church is donating proceeds from selling concessions at their 2019 Fifth Quarter event that was held after each DHS home football game to Sarah’s scholarship fund. The Destrehan Tennis team asked if they could design something to put on their uniforms to honor her during this season.
There is also the heartwarming feeling that Doug expressed over having the initial funding in place for a scholarship for a student pursuing a career in medicine or engineering. They are working on developing the application form and will have it ready for applicants to fill out in February. Shortly before her death, Sarah said she wanted to improve people’s lives in an impactful way.
“We’re happy to be able to do this in memory of our dear Sarah,” Doug said. “We are proud of Sarah’s achievements and thankful to be able to help others to achieve their dreams.”