A year of service and study capped off by surprise scholarship
Robert Fitzgerald was recently awarded a MAX by AccessLex retroactive scholarship for the 2020-21 academic year. Fitzgerald, who will graduate on May 16, received the $40,000 award that will go toward his law school tuition. Fitzgerald was stunned by the news, which tops off his busy year of service and study.
"This award came as a complete surprise. I had just completed a year-long mission through the National Guard in response to COVID-19 when they informed me of the award. It marked the end of a year by which I was feeling burnt out and anxious as graduation approached; now I have some peace of mind. This award is an indirect validation for the past year of adversity, and I am beyond grateful to everyone involved. I cannot thank the AccessLex MAX organization and the Duquesne staff enough," said Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald has been serving in the National Guard for almost six years. The past year responding to the pandemic has been the most challenging, serving his country in several ways to provide equity and opportunity since COVID-19 began.
With unemployment numbers at a peak and many people unable to put food on their tables, his group began aiding the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank in April of 2020. They packed and loaded food to provide families with much needed necessities and nourishment.
Going to where he was needed as a medic, Fitzgerald moved on from that mission to assisting with COVID-19 testing in long-term care facilities. He aided with testing in those facilities in different parts of Western Pennsylvania for several months.
Beginning in September, he was part of the National Guard response that established a community testing site in McKeesport where people would drive up and receive COVID-19 testing free of charge. The site was then taken over by third-party contractors. Those very vulnerable situations leading up to that point were not the most dire and desperate ones Fitzgerald would witness. His next charge allowed him to become more involved with direct patient care-both satisfying and somber.
"They sent us in at the worst-affected facilities in the area and we did whatever we could to keep them operational and maintain some quality of life for those inside. For many residents, they had not seen an outside face in 10 months so at the very least we were someone new to talk to," Fitzgerald said.
He became a familiar face and comforting face to the scared, lonely residents. Fitzgerald came off that mission this past April to focus on completing his graduation requirements. "Things had become too challenging to manage. The patient care work was also mentally and emotionally crushing," he said.
Still never one to shy away from duty, during his mission Fitzgerald completed financial modules by AccessLex. Unknown to him, finishing that work automatically entered him into the running for one of their scholarships, which he was given in April.
"This award was nothing more than chance. I was not aware at the time, but by completing various modules in their educational programming, you were entered into a series of drawings. I just happened to have my name drawn for the ‘grand' one. A pleasant surprise at that, it was basically the same week I ended my mission," Fitzgerald said.
After a mentally and physically grueling year where he combined service and his studies, Fitzgerald ended it with hope in the future. The courage he showed in the face of a global pandemic-while trying to navigate law school-was recognized. Although he was not seeking appreciation or acknowledgement of a job well done, he is thankful for this scholarship and the impact it will have on his future.
Dean April Barton was equally excited to see Fitzgerald awarded this scholarship. She said, "In the Duquesne style of service, Robert walked alongside his neighbors in challenging times, but never lost sight of his goal of furthering justice for all. It is wonderful to see something of this magnitude happen to someone who truly deserves it."
Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and horizon-expanding education. A campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, Duquesne prepares students by having them work alongside faculty to discover and reach their goals. The University's academic programs, community service, and commitment to equity and opportunity in the Pittsburgh region have earned national acclaim.
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