Two years after Sarah Pyles graduated from Chesapeake High School in 2009, she lost her life in Italy while studying abroad. To keep her memory alive, the following year in 2012, Pyles' family established a scholarship for graduating seniors from CHS.
The Sarah G M Pyles Foundation was created to award the Aspire to Change the World - Sarah's Scholarship. “The best way to honor her would be help students at Chesapeake,” shared Susan Swanger, Pyles' mother.
While at CHS, Pyles was a senior editor for the school newspaper, she was on the yearbook staff and she was part of the school's annual Shakespeare Day Festival. After graduation, Pyles attended St. Mary's College in St. Mary's City, Maryland. She was majoring in political science and minoring in both art history and women, gender and sexuality studies.
To enhance her art history studies, Pyles enrolled in a semester abroad program during her junior year at a St. Mary's. In Italy, she succumbed to symptoms of altitude sickness. Pyles had planned to attend graduate school at George Washington University to pursue a degree in international relations. Swanger believes Pyles would have eventually worked in a role where she could help the less fortunate, with a focus on women's needs.
Swanger proudly said Pyles' aspiration was to help change the world for the better. In that spirit, applicants for Sarah’s Scholarship are asked to pen a short essay titled, “How I would change the world and make it a better place.” Other criteria include demonstrated financial need and a minimum GPA of 3.2. The scholarship is open for any undergraduate major or career field.
There was one recipient each year for the first four years Sarah's Scholarship was awarded at CHS, and for the last four years, there have been two recipients each year. Swanger hopes her family will be able to award three recipients in 2020, in the amount of $1,000 each.
Donations to Sarah's Scholarship have come primarily from Sarah's family and friends, in addition to community fundraisers. A GoFundMe page was also created.
Applications are due in April each year. Students who are interested in applying for Sarah's Scholarship should inquire in the guidance counselor's office at CHS. More information is also available on the “Sarah Pyles Memorial Page” on Facebook or by contacting Swanger directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pyles' family members choose the scholarship recipients and present the awards during an annual spring ceremony at CHS. Pyles' brother, Daniel, has attended every award ceremony since the inception of the scholarship, and other family members also attend when they are able.
Swanger said the personal connections she makes with recipients are uplifting and help her through sorrowful times. “We get to know who won,” she said. “It feels personal. We feel the good the scholarship is doing, and we love that.”