A scholarship has been established to honor the memory and wishes of Palm Beach State College alumna Sharene Smith, who lost her battle with cancer on Sunday, April 23, four months after achieving her lifelong dream of a bachelor’s degree.
Family, co-workers and friends of the 65-year-old woman pooled their money to donate $25,000 to the Palm Beach State College Foundation for the Sharene Savage Smith Endowed Memorial Scholarship for Older Students. The scholarship will be open to individuals 55 years and older who want to pursue their education.
“Sharene would be smiling big time,’’ said her sister, Tamara Savage. “Every time she talked about her degree, she smiled. She was equally passionate about encouraging other older students to return to [Palm Beach State College] for their degree.”
Smith, who graduated in December 2016, gained local and national media attention for her steadfast commitment to completing her bachelor’s of applied science degree in supervision and management despite battling two cases of cancer.
She enrolled at Palm Beach State College in 2010, first to complete an associate’s degree, after putting her education on hold for more than two decades to raise her four daughters and work. Then came a series of challenges. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, and she lost her husband to cancer and her mother to Alzheimer’s disease in 2013. However, she remained focused on her goal, completing her associate’s degree in 2012 and then beginning the bachelor’s program.
She enrolled in a capstone course, the final step to complete her degree, in spring 2016, but she withdrew because of side effects from her last round of treatments in December 2015 for another cancer of unspecified origin. However, her professor, Dr. Roger Blair, contacted her and encouraged her to return. She enrolled in fall 2016 despite knowing she had incurable cancer. “Sharene knew she was dying when she took that class. Her goal was to finish the degree before the cancer won, so she won,’’ Savage said.
When radiation paralyzed one of her vocal chords just weeks before graduation in December 2016 and her scheduled presentation, she contacted Blair, who allowed Savage to present the findings of Smith’s capstone project, an 11,000-word research paper examining Palm Beach State College’s recruitment of people 55 and older.
“I have never seen such determination in the face of adversity,’’ Blair said. “Sharene was a role model for all of us in the class.”
Smith’s paper and the support from Blair and others led to her desire to create a scholarship fund. Earning the degree was about a personal mission, not a need to enhance her career, Smith’s family said.
“She was an incredible person. People need to know. She already had a job with a six-figure salary. She didn’t need [the degree],’’ Savage said. “We’re just glad she made it through the graduation.”
Suellen Mann, executive director of the Palm Beach State College Foundation, praised the family’s desire to honor Smith’s legacy by creating this scholarship for other non-traditional students.
“She was an inspiration and a reflection of what can be accomplished through sheer determination,’’ Mann said.
To contribute to the Sharene Savage Smith Memorial Fund for Older Students through the PBSC Foundation, visit www.palmbeachstate.edu/foundation.