Scholarship honors alumna who died after earning degree

Sharene Smith smiles at commencement in December 2016.

An endowed scholarship has been established to honor the memory and wishes of Palm Beach State College alumna Sharene Smith who lost her battle with cancer April 23, four months after achieving her lifelong dream of a bachelor’s degree.

Family, co-workers and friends of the 65-year-old Boca Raton woman pooled their money to donate $25,000 to the PBSC 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 of Delray Beach. “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 of Applied Science degree in Supervision and Management despite battling two cases of cancer.

She enrolled at PBSC in 2010, first to complete an Associate in Arts 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 in 2013. However, she remained focused on her goal, completing the A.A. degree in 2012 and then beginning the B.A.S. program.

She enrolled in a capstone course, the final step to complete her B.A.S. 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’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 enormous support from Blair and others led to her desire to create a scholarship fund. Smith was vice president of patient services for BodyLogicMD, a Boca Raton company founded by her twin brothers, one a medical doctor and one who holds an MBA. Earning the degree was about a personal mission, not a need to enhance her career, her 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],’’ said Savage, whose parents encouraged all of their six children raised in Michigan to get a college degree. “We’re just glad she made it through the graduation.”

Suellen Mann, executive director of the PBSC 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. “We always encourage people to support students through scholarships. This is especially rewarding as an endowment creates sustainable support,” she said.

To contribute to the Sharene Savage Smith Endowed Memorial Scholarship for Older Students through the PBSC Foundation, go to the donation page. In the drop down menu for donation options select “other,” and type the name of the scholarship.


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3 comments on “Scholarship honors alumna who died after earning degree”

  1. Wow! What an inspiration! I hope many people are encouraged by the story of this incredible warrior. It is never late to learn and to be exposed like Mrs. Sharene said to “something of quality”. That is what a good education is about; learning, curiosity, excitement and improving our understanding of the world.

  2. No matter what Sharene always had a smile!
    Her determination and pride twinkled in
    her eyes as we all observed her sister presenting the findings of her Capstone paper.
    May her legacy continue with this wonderful scholarship opportunity for our older students!

  3. I was in the Capstone class with Sharene in the Spring of 2016 and we shared table space during that class. She was an awesome asset to our class and we were all saddened to learn of her decision to withdraw from the course when she did. She was the epitome of perseverance. I am so happy to hear that she kept the original focus for her capstone paper/presentation as it was a fantastic topic and she was so very passionate about it. My thoughts and prayers to her family and I am so glad to be able to say I knew Sharene, even though it was only for a short while. RIP.

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