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Everything counts: Scholarship honors math-lover’s legacy

Lee Ann Murray and Bill

Lee Ann Murray and her uncle, Bill Murray.

March 14 marks a special day for math enthusiasts. The date, Pi Day, corresponds to the first three digits of pi, an infinite number denoting the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter.

This year’s Pi Day had extra significance at Illinois State, not just because the year allowed the day to be celebrated to its fourth decimal place (3/14/15), but because it marked the awarding of the first two Lee Ann Murray Everything Counts Scholarships.

Encouraged by her uncle, Bill Murray ’81, Lee Ann Murray ’12 followed her love of math to ISU’s actuarial science sequence. She immersed herself in activities, joining the Honors Program, serving as vice president in Toastmasters, and holding memberships in the Actuarial Club and Alpha Iota Sigma.

“Math people were her kind of people,” Bill said. “She really thrived in that kind of environment.”

Lee Ann’s bright personality and success in the classroom earned her a job offer months before graduation. She accepted a position with Mercer and relocated to Louisville, Kentucky.

“She was going to go out into the world,” Bill said. “She started to create a new life for herself.”

Unfortunately, Lee Ann was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and passed away in September 2014 due to treatment complications. Relatives explored ways to honor her memory, opting to create an ISU scholarship in her name to benefit an actuarial science student.

“She loved math and the actuarial science program. She thrived in it. It prepared her for the future, although it was a short one,” Bill said. “We just wanted her memory to live on and maybe inspire others who were a part of that program.”

The first two scholarship recipients were announced on Pi Day, a favorite day of Lee Ann. Her family, friends, and actuarial science program faculty gathered for coffee, and of course, pie. Funding for a second recipient was supplemented through actuarial program alumni donors. The recipients’ names were read at exactly 9:26:53 a.m., making the event a nod to pi down to the 10th digit.

Nicole McArdle and Na-On Weeraklaew were grateful for the support. They were also humbled knowing Lee Ann was a fellow actuarial science program student.

“I do really appreciate the scholarship and love that it’s an ‘everything counts’ scholarship,” said Nicole, a senior. “She loved math. She loved her job. And she was just happy with life. I think that means more, and that’s why this scholarship stands out to me.”

Na-On, a junior, noted that receiving the scholarship provided validation of extra work she put into studying, passing exams, and her involvement in ISU’s Actuarial Club.

Lee Ann’s family originally planned to raise the $25,000 needed for a fully endowed scholarship over a few years. They met that goal in around two months. Gifts continued to come in, so they funded a second award. That fund met the financial goal later on Pi Day at an Oak Forest fundraiser.

“We wanted to raise enough money so that it would be meaningful and kids would want to apply for the scholarship,” Bill said. “It’s exceeded our expectations at this point.”

Lee Ann’s family was inspired to include “everything counts” in the title of the scholarship for several reasons. It hails to Lee Ann’s love of math. It encourages donors to become involved and make a gift no matter the size. And it connects to a parable from Matthew 25 that was shared at Lee Ann’s funeral. The scriptures are a reminder that everything we do and don’t do in our lives matters and adds up at the end. Everything counts.

“It was a way to bring some good out of a bad situation,” Bill said. “We just needed to do something. We were all grieving during the process. We wanted to do something in her memory that would maybe inspire other kids who were going through the program.”

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