In her college essay, Colleen Ritzer wrote of her childhood dream to become a teacher “who would shape the minds and lives of children.”
Her life ended tragically last October when she was stabbed to death at the school, allegedly by one of her freshman algebra students.
But Ritzer’s love for teaching will live on through 12 new graduates of Andover and Danvers high schools, who are the first recipients of the Colleen E. Ritzer Memorial Scholarship.
Six winners were chosen from each school. A total of $24,000 was awarded, with amounts ranging from $1,500 to $2,500.
The recipients — student-athletes, musicians, and volunteers — are off to college in the fall, inspired by Ritzer’s warmth, kindness, and passion for teaching.
“I feel very blessed to be able to live out her legacy,” said Andrea Lang, 18, a Danvers High recipient. “Miss Ritzer was always a friendly, smiling face in our hallways. “
‘We wanted to do something for her, and we felt that a scholarship was the best way to do that.’
“It’s a great honor to receive her scholarship,” said Courtney Comeau, 18, an Andover High recipient. “I would like to continue her legacy of being happy and smiling, and getting kids enthusiastic not just about school, but to help others.”
Tom and Peggie Ritzer established the memorial scholarship to honor their daughter’s love of teaching.
“We wanted to do something for her, and we felt that a scholarship was the best way to do that,” Peggie Ritzer said on Monday after the scholarships were presented to Andover seniors. “But we also wanted it to be about family. Colleen was very family-oriented. It was important for us to honor that.”
Colleen graduated from Andover High School in 2007. In her yearbook, she paid tribute to her parents, brother Dan, now 21, and sister Laura, 18, who graduated on Monday from Andover High.
“Mom and Dad, you’ve taught me so much and I don’t know where I’d be without you,” Colleen wrote. “Dan, you always make me laugh. Best little brother . . . Laura, my little athlete. I’m so proud of you.”
Ritzer majored in education at Assumption College in Worcester. She graduated in 2011 with high honors, and taught for one year at a middle school in Stow. She started at Danvers High in September 2012.
At the time of her death, Ritzer was studying for a master’s degree in counseling at Salem State University. She would have turned 25 on May 13.
Money for her memorial fund was raised from a number of community events, including an ice cream social in Danvers, a style-a-thon at a Middleton hair salon, and a bowl-a-thon in Woburn.
On Thanksgiving morning in Andover, hundreds of participants in the town’s annual Feaster Five charity run wore pink T-shirts emblazoned with “Remembering Ritzer” to raise money for the fund, which is managed by the Essex County Community Foundation in Danvers.
Contributions also have poured in from across the country from the many who were touched by the loss of a promising young teacher.
“We’re honored that so many people donated to Colleen’s scholarship fund so that we could do this,” Peggie Ritzer said.
More fund-raisers will be held in the next school year.
“We appreciate all that people have donated, but there’s going to be more fund-raisers. We want this to continue in perpetuity for Colleen,” Peggie Ritzer said.
The scholarships are open to any senior at Andover or Danvers high who plans to study education at a four-year college. Applicants were asked to write a 500-word essay about their plans for college, and to reflect on a portion of Ritzer’s own college essay, in which she wrote that her goal was to become a teacher who “will impact students’ lives.”
Sarah Mountain, a Danvers scholarship recipient, wrote about the day in third grade when she dressed up as a teacher for her class’s hero day.
“I would love to become a teacher like Miss Ritzer,” said Mountain, who plans to major in elementary education at Salem State University. “I thank her family for the opportunity to become one.”
Emily Felter, an Andover recipient, said she worked hard on her application.
“What happened to her really hit close to home,” said Felter, who will major in elementary education at Endicott College in Beverly in the fall. “It was important for me to participate in something that would honor her legacy.”
The winners were chosen by a committee that included Ritzer’s parents, Danvers High math teachers, and other educators. About 20 to 30 applications were received, all of them from girls, Peggie Ritzer said.
“It was tough to choose, but we wanted to give out more this year, since it’s our first time. This is Laura’s graduating class, so that was important to us, too.”
Tom and Peggie Ritzer awarded the Danvers scholarships at the school’s senior reception on June 4. On Monday, Dan and Laura presented the Andover awards.
“It was a nice way to honor her,” Laura Ritzer said quietly, just hours before she donned her cap and gown to graduate from Andover High.
“It was a nice ceremony,” said Dan, a 2011 graduate of Andover High, who will be a senior this fall at the University of Connecticut.
Laura will attend her sister’s alma mater, Assumption College, in the fall. She’s unsure if she’ll be a teacher. “I don’t know what I’m going to major in yet,” she said.
Jessica Ferronetti, who received a scholarship from Andover, also will attend Assumption. She hopes to become a high school Spanish teacher, or perhaps a math teacher.
“Laura always talked about how passionate her sister was about teaching,” Ferronetti said. “I want to be that passionate about whatever I do.”
Some Andover parents said Colleen Ritzer is a role model.
“She inspired a lot of kids in this town,” said Richard Aumais, whose daughter, Christine, received a scholarship. “Reading about Colleen, you realize what a great person she was. You hope that’s what your children grow up to be.”
Peter Comeau, the track coach at Andover High, said all the scholarship winners face high expectations.
“We’ll be following them in four years to see where they’ll be doing their student teaching and where they’ll be getting their first job,” Comeau said. “To receive this scholarship is very special.”
The 12 graduates of Andover and Danvers high schools who are the first recipients of the Colleen E. Ritzer Memorial Scholarship:
|Andover High School|
|Christine A. Aumais||UMass Amherst|
|Courtney L. Comeau||UMass Amherst|
|Elizabeth P. Dever||University of Connecticut|
|Emily J. Felter||Endicott College|
|Jessica C. Ferronetti||Assumption College|
|Carly N. Sakellarios||Assumption College|
Danvers High School
|Lily E. Cuzner||High Point University|
|Catherine J. Lamoly||Roger Williams University|
|Andrea M. Lang||University of N.C. at Wilmington|
|Mary E. Leahy||Wagner College|
|Sarah E. Mountain||Salem State University|
|Samantha L. Walters||Salem State University|
Contributions to the Colleen E. Ritzer Memorial Scholarship Fund may be sent to the Essex County Community Foundation, 175 Andover St., Danvers, MA 01923