Greenwich Scholarship Association honors student achievement

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Selectman Drew Marzullo had a scholarship (and a hug) for GHS student Alleyah Dannett at last week’s Greenwich Scholarship Association event. Mr. Marzullo presented the Ketam Tamm Memorial Award to Alleyah, one of the 123 students honored. –John Ferris Robben

The event was held on June 12 inside the GHS auditorium as 123 recipients received scholarships totaling nearly $522,700, which was a nice pre-commencement gift for all involved. The graduation for GHS students is set for today, June 19, at 6:30 p.m. at Cardinal Stadium with Paul Hicks, a graduate of the class of 1976 and the current executive vice president of communications for the NFL, serving as the commencement speaker.

The Post will have full coverage of the graduation in its June 26 edition and online at Greenwich-post.com, but last Thursday was the night for the scholarship winners to shine, as they received a financial boost to their college educations thanks to the GSA, which has coordinated Greenwich residents, businesses and foundations looking to give with students in need.

Scholarships are given by organizations throughout town including the Greenwich Republican and Democratic town committees, the Greenwich PTA Council, the Western Greenwich Lions Club, the Greenwich Old Timers Club and the Greenwich Hospital Auxiliary, as well as sports booster clubs and local businesses like Rudy’s Limousine, the Ivey, Barnum & O’Mara law firm and Chicken Joe’s. But the wide majority of the scholarships were given as memorial tributes.

In many cases the people who lost loved ones and created the scholarships in their names were on hand to personally congratulate the students. But for parents still mourning the loss of children far too early into their lives, it was also a chance for them to provide advice for those about to start on a journey outside of GHS.

In presenting the Christopher T. Harris Jr. Memorial Scholarship to both Julia Zivic and Nicholas Ditrio, Christopher Harris Sr. spoke about the circumstances of his son’s death. His son, a graduate of GHS class of 2010, had fallen ill and was upset at what he felt was his college’s medical staff’s inability to treat his throat pain seriously with anything more than Motrin from a pediatrician. That led to him seeking help from a friend and the use of a substance that took the pain away but ultimately killed him in his sleep.

“I share that with you because today you all sit here with your future in your hands,” Mr. Harris said. “Live and embrace your future. Make smart decisions. Your future is here.”

The scholarship was given to Julia and Nicholas because of their sharing of Christopher’s love of music and their intention to pursue a career in it as well as their passion for community service and giving back.

Debbie Schiano also spoke at the event when presenting the Joseph Schiano Memorial Scholarship in honor of her son, a lance corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps who was killed in a car accident after returning home from two tours in Afghanistan. She hammered home what she said was a vital lesson to not just Stephanie Arango, the recipient of the scholarship, but all the students in attendance.

“My son’s life was just beginning and he was invincible, or so he thought,” Ms. Schiano said. “He drove too fast and that would take his life and bring me here tonight. So when you’re out there creating memories, remember that your life is precious. Take your time. There is no rush.”

Bob Stone was on hand as he has been in years past to hand out the Becky Stone Memorial Scholarship, which is in memory of his late wife, the coordinator of the GHS Media Center and the driving force behind the creation of the school’s highly regarded senior internship program. Presenting the scholarship to Vincent Urbanowski, Mr. Stone talked about the necessity of not just meeting expectations but exceeding them and called those who receive the award to be “first rate examples of that goal.”

There were also new scholarships this year including one for Ketam Tamm, who had passed away earlier this year. A longtime friend of Samarpana Tamm, Ketam’s mother, Selectman Drew Marzullo gave the scholarship to Alleyah Dannett, who shared the same love of theater he had and was an active part of the school’s Gay/Straight Alliance.

“I know this comes with a time of great sadness,” Mr. Marzullo said. “Ketam was a special person. He was a lifelong producer, actor and singer and produced shows in various venues in New York and traveled a lot. He had a contagious laugh and of all the rich elements and experiences of his life theater was always his home and his comfortable place.”

Board of Education Chairman Barbara O’Neill was on hand for the event and gave some early pre-graduation congratulations to all the students.

“You have persevered, you have worked hard and you deserve to be congratulated,” Ms. O’Neill said. “You have succeeded in getting to the finish line of high school graduation, which is something not every student can do. And you are making the very important decision to continue with your education. For this you should also be congratulated.”

As if to sweeten the pot a little, Ms. O’Neill shared some figures that showed these soon to be college students that those who pursue higher education typically live longer, earn more, have happier lives and are healthier.

“You have made an excellent decision and, as you go on in your education, remember that you have conquered many challenges in your 12 years in education and in life in general,” Ms. O’Neill said. “Remember those challenges and those successes as you face other challenges when they come along. It’s not the falling down that’s important. It’s the getting up and moving on through perseverance and hard work that will determine if you are going to be successful in life or not. It’s up to you. When you get discouraged, and we all do, you just have to say to yourself, ‘I’ve been there and conquered that. I can do it again.’”

There were also words of encouragement from GHS Headmaster Christopher Winters, who called it an honor to have the annual event that has benefited thousands of students through the decades.

“This is a night that we have so much pride in our students and in our community,” Mr. Winters said. “To sit in the audience and watch as we match students who have accomplished so much with the generosity of our community is a wonderful feeling. Anything we do to help students go on to college is a good thing.”

GSA president Marie Hertzig stressed that the event is “not a one-man show” and thanked all of the organization’s board members for their hundreds of hours of “commitment and enthusiasm.” She also gave thanks to the people and businesses of Greenwich who donated money to make sure that the dream of college became more affordable to Greenwich students.

“I have never been so aware of the generous and reliable heart of this community,” Ms. Hertzig said. “You the sponsors have revealed this in the many scholarships you give each year. Repeatedly, sponsors with their own families and obligations come forward and significantly increase their contributions.”

Turning to the students on the stage with her, Ms. Hertzig urged them to make good on the opportunities they’d been given to go to a college or university and also provided them with a little advice right out of Miss Manners.

“Tonight you received gifts from all these generous people,” Ms. Hertzig said. “Each award is a vote of confidence in your ability, and you will and you can succeed. But remember to send a thank-you note within 10 days.”

More information is online at Greenwichscholarship.org.

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