By Tiffany Merlo Phelps
One story stands out in Anna Pirgousis’ mind that best illustrates the heart of her 16-year-old son Zander Laurin, the Ponte Vedra High School sophomore who died after being hit on AIA while jogging last year. Pirgousis asked Laurin when he was eight years old to name three gifts that he wanted for Christmas.
“He was struggling to come up with that third gift,” said Pirgousis. “And then he came to us and said that he wanted to give a bike anonymously to a kid who had been bullying him because he knew that the family could not afford it. So, that’s what we did. We put a big bow on it and left it in their yard the night before Christmas.”
A few days later, the same child rode the bike up to Laurin and Pirgousis at a park.
“He started making fun of Zander’s bike, and all Zander said was ‘Hey, that’s a really cool bike,’” said Pirgousis. “It wasn’t who he was to say anything negative back to the boy. He believed in second chances and being kind in the face of adversity.”
It is in that spirit of strength and giving that the Ponte Vedra Sharks Booster Club decided to create the Zander Laurin Pirgousis Memorial Scholarship to be awarded annually to one male and one female senior who has been accepted into an accredited college or university. The deadline date for submissions has been extended to April 25. The first recipients will be announced at the Ponte Vedra High School Senior Awards Night, scheduled for April 30, said Amy Pattison, Ponte Vedra Sharks Booster Club president. Pattison said she presented the memorial scholarship to the board after learning about Laurin’s remarkable life and accomplishments, and the board approved it unanimously.
“Story after story, I just grew more in awe of him. He touched more lives than he could have ever known. What I learned about who Zander was really was nothing short of impressive,” said Pattison. “He cared about everyone, befriended people unconditionally and enjoyed life. He loved to read and write and think, and he didn’t take life for granted. He loved his mom more than anything, and he had a love for our country that he was very proud of. He had a servant’s heart which probably touched me the most.”
Pirgousis and her husband, Philip, then decided to match the scholarship offer which created two $2,500 scholarships. Pirgousis, former Booster Club vice president, wrote the application questions and had always wanted to help students struggling with financial needs. She credits Pattison with championing the effort.
Scholarship requirements include having a 3.0 GPA unweighted, athletic participation and performing arts participation, community service, an essay and a short answer questionnaire along with an interview. Review committee members include Pirgousis, Pattison and Ponte Vedra High School wrestling coach Josean Gonzalez. Contact Pattison at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about the scholarship.
Pirgousis said the scholarship requirements reflect all that Laurin embodied as a Petty Officer in the U.S. Naval Sea Cadets Corps, Cadet Dive Team member, a varsity wrestler and a student with more than 200 hours of volunteer service that he didn’t submit. He also participated in the Drama Club. Laurin was training at the time of his death for a tough field operation test in Iowa and was set to complete his Rescue Diver certification as well. The day Laurin was buried would have been the day he took over as battalion leader in the Sea Cadets, said Pirgousis. Laurin planned to attend the Citadel and to become a canine handler in the Marines.
Ponte Vedra High School junior Jack Hebert, a close friend of Zander’s, was so impacted by Laurin that he organized a Reindeer Run in December, raising and donating $1,000 to the scholarship fund in support of student athletes.
“The reason that I wanted to do the run was to honor Zander and to keep the cherished memories of him alive. Zander was a very close friend of mine and losing him so tragically has been extremely difficult for so many people,” said Hebert.
Through Laurin’s belief in organ donation, a wish that was honored, and the memorial scholarship, Pirgousis feels that her son and his dreams have taken on a new life and energy.
“The best way to honor him is by living the way that I taught him to live and to touch the lives of other kids through the scholarships. I can choose to harness this energy and create good from it,” Pirgousis said.
Photo courtesy Anna Pirgousis
Zander Laurin and Anna Pirgousis hiking.