Scholarship fund will honor memory of former Destrehan student

Sarah James

Hundreds donate in her name to help aspiring medical students

The tragic passing of 19-year-old Sarah James, Montz native and Destrehan High School alumnus, left many in the local community reeling. It’s also inspired them to rally around the James family in an effort to keep Sarah’s name alive.

Her family has been raising funds toward establishing a scholarship in the former parish Student of the Year’s name called the Sarah James Memorial Scholarship fund. Within the first eight days of the posting of a GoFundMe page for the scholarship, almost 250 people had donated to the cause to raise more than $24,000.

According to the family, the scholarship is meant to be an ongoing, lasting means to enable students to pursue their goals and dreams in the medical or engineering fields.  James majored in biological engineering at LSU and aspired to go into medicine, with hopes of helping others through her work. James was part of LSU’s BAE FastPath program, taking steps to one day become a medical doctor with a PhD.

In an interview with the Herald-Guide following her graduation as Destrehan High’s Salutatorian in 2018, James said “My Goal is to improve people’s lives, hopefully in a really impactful way.”

“To help her realize this goal, even after this senseless tragedy, we are asking for your support to set up a lasting scholarship in her name that will enable other students to pursue their dreams,” the family posted to the GoFundMe page.

More than 1,000 people have shared the page (titled Sarah James Memorial Scholarship on GoFundMe’s website) through Facebook.

“Sarah applied for a few different scholarships,” said James’ mother, Rebecca. “She got some and didn’t get some, but she actively pursued them because she knew it would be a long road to pursuing the degree she aspired for.

“I think she would be very happy to help other people not eliminate those options and to help them continue to pursue their dream … I think that would mean a lot to her.”

Doug, James’ father, tragically lost his brother when the latter was in college, and their family set up a similar scholarship, first at his brother’s high school, then his college.

“So myself, my father and sister had experience managing that … it’s just a great way to keep everyone’s memory of her.”

He said the family successfully registered for a non-profit to be established in the name of the scholarship fund through the Secretary of State’s office, a process finalized last week.

While the criteria to select a winner has not been finalized, he said it would most likely center around the activities and interests that Sarah was known for.

Rebecca added that the intention is for this scholarship to last.

“Obviously, that will take time,” she said, noting the interest that accumulates on the account will help that goal become reality. “We want this to be sustainable forever.”

Destrehan High School and St. Charles United Methodist Church are also accepting donation checks on behalf of the family to put toward the scholarship fund. James frequently volunteered with the church and with her family was part of its community.

On the night she died, July 16, James was out with friends in Baton Rouge at approximately 11:30 p.m. While crossing a street near the campus of LSU, where James had just completed her first year studying biological engineering, she was struck by an SUV and suffered fatal injuries.

Robert Fisher, a teacher for gifted and talented art program students at Destrehan High, taught James for four years and the two became close. An academic scholarship in her name, he said, was fitting for remembrance of a truly gifted student.

“She was gifted in math, English, art … to find someone so brilliant and visually talented is rare … she was an all-around student,” Fisher said. “That’s how many gifts God had given this little girl. She could do anything she wanted.”

He called the outpouring of support for the scholarship “a testament to how people feel about Sarah and her parents … they wouldn’t give if they didn’t believe in the cause.”

One reason James was so beloved by so many was her giving nature. Fisher said James went out of her way to help her fellow students in his classes and in others, often stopping her own work to assist with others’.

“Even with Sarah being Salutatorian, it wasn’t just about Sarah to her. She did what she could to pull others up to help them along the way,” he said. “A lot of people get to the top and they want to stay there, and they help themselves get what they can and never reach back. Sarah wasn’t like that, and it made her special.”

Dawn Jacobi, gifted mathematics teacher at DHS who was also very close with James, called her longtime student “an exceedingly caring person.”

“She never hesitated to reach out and help others. Sarah personified Mahatma Ghandi’s quote, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world,’” Jacobi said. “She was a special person who will be remembered for her light-filled legacy and purpose-driven life. Sarah set an example of excellence for all to emulate.”

Rebecca James said the community’s support has been “overwhelming.”

“We’ve been so amazed,” she said. “Her friends from college, our family and friends, our church … even people in the community who said they didn’t really know her, but heard about this and about her from others, so many people have reached out in support. People have donated … we’re still being offered meals, anything to help.

“We wouldn’t be getting through this without our community.”

Doug James echoed his wife’s appreciation. But, as anyone could imagine, it’s been an extremely difficult road emotionally for both.

“It’s up and down, every day,” Doug said.

Her name will live on

  • Family of Sarah James is fundraising to establish the Sarah James Memorial Scholarship Fund, a lasting scholarship in her name to help students pursuing degrees in the medical or engineering field.
  • James died in a tragic accident in mid-July near LSU’s campus
  • She majored in biological engineering and had aspirations of becoming a doctor and helping others through her vocation. Her family sees the scholarship as a means to enable others to carry out the goodwill she planned to spread.

 

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