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Redbird legacy: Chasing criminal justice

Redbird legacy August 2012

Sheryl Fitzjarrald, left; her daughter, Sami; and her son-in-law, Garrett, all completed a criminal justice sciences degree at Illinois State.

At 17, she was a homeless runaway. Years later Sheryl Fitzjarrald ’94 completed an ISU degree that put her on track for law school and blazed a trail one child followed.

Sheryl was an honors student before she dropped out of high school, married, had two daughters, and divorced. “I decided the only way out of dire straits was through education,” she said.

She transferred to Illinois State with an associate’s degree and majored in criminal justice sciences. Occasionally she’d have her pre-teen daughters in classes with her.

There was no doubt law school would follow graduation.

One daughter, Sami ’00, chose the same major at ISU with plans to enter law enforcement. An internship with an attorney changed her mind and she went on to complete a law degree as well, but not without her own personal struggle.

Sami met Garrett Anderson ’10 while both were ISU students. Garrett was a nontraditional student and member of the U.S. Army.

He wanted to be a police officer too, but that plan changed with deployment to Iraq in 2005. Garrett was hurt, suffering extensive facial injuries and loss of an arm. He endured an eight-month recovery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

When released, the couple returned to Champaign. Sami drove to Michigan weekly to finish her law degree while working nearly full-time in a law office. Garrett commuted to Illinois State, becoming the third family member to graduate in criminal justice sciences.

Garrett volunteers for the Wounded Warriors Project, encouraging other veterans to earn degrees. He also helps care for the couple’s two daughters: Skyler, 5, and Alex, 2. Sami continues work she started at Walter Reed—Wills for Soldiers—which provides pro bono services to soldiers deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sami assists veterans and their families with disability related issues, all while still pursuing with her mother a passion that was sparked while at Illinois State. The two have their own law firm, practicing together at Anderson & Fitzjarrald in Champaign.

 

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