By Rebecca Steiner
Junior Yessenia Funes has a plan for the degree she is earning.
“With my words, I will expose the atrocities and depression occurring in developing nations such as El Salvador,” wrote the journalism and environmental studies double major in a scholarship application. “Those stories and voices that remain unheard will be heard with my help.”
Funes, whose parents lived through poverty and civil war in El Salvador before they relocated to the United States, is this year’s winner of the $2,500 Susanna C. Burgett ’81 Scholarship.
The scholarship was funded by Rabbi Daniel B. Price ’79 to memorialize the late Susanna Burgett ’81, his close friend, whom he met during his last year at SUNY Plattsburgh.
“I felt that it was the best way to perpetuate Susanna’s memory,” he said. “I just felt that this was a soul that always needed to be remembered through my life and beyond.”
After her time at Plattsburgh, Burgett went on to attend Boston College Law School and was recruited thereafter by some of the top firms in the nation. Then, in the summer of 1994, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
During her 14-year battle, she helped others who had the disease by opening a volunteer outpatient help desk at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Mass., where she was treated.
When Burgett finally succumbed at age 47, Price was there with her.
“She never gave up, even when faced with overwhelming odds,” Price said.
Burgett’s strengths included intelligence, tenacity, bravery and good work ethic, he said, adding that he hopes the scholarship recipients “will find some of these qualities within themselves as they work hard towards their professional goals.”
To be eligible to apply for the scholarship, applicants must be female, have at least a 3.0 GPA and have financial need and the intention to further their education through graduate school or professional study programs. Applicants are then selected by the Honors Selection Committee.
“The essay she wrote was poetic, and it captured the spirit of the scholarship’s intent,” Armstrong said. “Her professional goals and dreams — to become a journalist and the kind of writer who gives back to the community she comes from — are a wonderful testimonial to Susanna Burgett’s life.”
“I have to say that she’s really quite remarkable, and I really was so impressed with her,” he said. “None of the scholarship students are going to be like Susanna, but, in Yessenia, I see that spark — that flash of fresh intelligence — the drive and excitement about the future that she had.”
Without the Burgett Scholarship, Funes might not have been able to attend college at all. Now, the honors program student is poised to become the first in her immediate family to graduate with a college degree.
“To some, $2,500 may not seem like much,” Funes said. “For a student whose mother earns $350 a week at McDonald’s, it’s a fortune. This fortune can help me help my people.”
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