As a young widow with six children, Elaine Sartwell found it necessary to “recreate” the future she had envisioned before her husband died. “I had always wanted to go to school, but let that dream fall by the wayside as I raised my children,” Sartwell says. Years later, after working in the human services field, Sartwell says she felt “trapped at the front line without a qualifying degree to apply for higher positions.” So she enrolled at community college, earned an impressive GPA, and was invited to transfer to Syracuse University. “I wasn’t sure if SU was out of my league, but was delighted to find out I was accepted into the Social Work program with an Achiever Scholarship from University College.”
Sartwell quickly discovered that she was right where she belonged. Not only has she made the Dean’s List every semester, she received one of Syracuse University’s highest honors recently when she was named a 2016-17 Remembrance Scholar. As a recipient of this year-long recognition, Sartwell received a $5,000 scholarship in honor of Gary Colasanti, one of the 35 SU students who were killed in the December 21, 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The SU students—who were among 270 people who perished in the bombing—were returning home after spending a semester abroad in London and Florence.
“I had to convince myself that I was worthy of this prestigious honor,” Sartwell says, and was humbled by being chosen. “I was impressed with the commitment and compassion for the SU students who lost their lives in such a tragic way, and I became enthusiastic about being part of such a wonderful program,” she recalls.
As a Remembrance Scholar, Sartwell attended weekly meetings to prepare for Remembrance Week 2016, which took place in October. She became familiar with Colasanti through extensive archives, participated in a rose-laying ceremony at the Place of Remembrance in front of the Hall of Languages, and honored him with a speech at the Remembrance Convocation in Hendricks Chapel. “He was a remarkable young man,” she says.
Sartwell looks forward to graduating in May and pursuing her career in social work. “I was raised in severe poverty and neglect and was always passionate about closing the gaps and removing obstacles for those in poverty,” she says. “I want to empower individuals and families to become stronger.”
Empowering herself has been a work in progress, but she feels that she has finally arrived. “I needed to let go of old baggage, and just reach for my dreams—higher than I had ever reached before,” she muses. “It has been rewarding to be an example for my children and grandchildren, and I’ve given myself a gift beyond my wildest dreams.”
UPDATE: Elaine Sartwell graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Science from Falk College in May 2017. She was named a University College Alumni Scholar—an honor given to the graduates with the highest grade point averages.