Haiti tragedy, 2 UP students inspire scholarship

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by Katherine Cook, KGW Staff

NWCN.com

Posted on January 10, 2014 at 2:42 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 10 at 5:44 PM

PORTLAND -- As a student at the University of Portland, Jean-Francois Seide, 26, embraces life on "The Bluff" and the conveniences of college that some students might take for granted.

"Everything is close," said Seide. "You have all the time to study and to just acquire knowledge. I think that's wonderful," said Seide.

It's a world away from Seide's home, in Haiti, a place shaken to its core by a cataclysmic earthquake on Jan. 12 2010.

That was a day Seide remembers all too well.

"By the time I got out the house, it was already on the ground," recalled Seide.

After the earthquake, Seide returned to the orphanage where he was raised and helped build a refugee camp for 2,500 orphans.

Many did not survive the orphanage quake though, including 22-year-old Molly Hightower.

The University of Portland graduate had been in Haiti caring for orphans. Hightower's fellow University of Portland graduate, Rachel Prusynski, was visiting when the earthquake struck.

"I'll never regret being in the earthquake," said Prusynski. " Because I got to see (Molly) there and I got a lot of meaning and direction for my life from it."

Hightower's death also changed Seide's life, but in a way he never expected.

It would take another year and a chance encounter between Prusynski, and University of Portland benefactor Joe Allegretti, before Seide and Prusynski would cross paths again.

"(Joe) was like, 'maybe someday I'll give (a scholarship) to a kid from Haiti,'" said Prusynski. "I said, well, I'll find you someone if you want to do it!"

The two decided to create a scholarship in Molly Hightower's memory.

Prusynski reached out to Seide, who was in Seattle at the time studying English on scholarship.

"That's how I met (Rachel)," recalled Seide. "She approached me and talked with me about the Molly Hightower Scholarship."

"I kind of recruited him, really," said Prusynski. "I was like 'Hey, you want to go to college?'"

Seide became the first recipient of the Molly Hightower Haiti Memorial Scholarship.

"I always try to do my best so that (Molly) can be proud," Seide said.

He wants to help others in Haiti realize their dreams of getting an education.

"If I could build universities that would be good," Seide said. "I would be happy to see Haitians acquiring knowledge, because I know they love to learn.  There is just no way to learn (in Haiti)."

There was also no way to know that this gift of learning would come out of such a tragedy. Molly Hightower's giving heart still beats on for the people her scholarship will now help.

"I can't express how grateful I am," shared Seide.

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