From tragedy, a family hopes to offer guidance
At Westhill High School: Events honor memory of charismatic scholar-athlete
Updated 5:30 pm, Monday, April 29, 2013
By Dave Ruden
STAMFORD -- Stephanie Becker possessed a 1,000-watt smile, which seemed to contribute to the sun-bathed sky over Westhill High School, where Becker's memory was honored Sunday afternoon in a dedication ceremony before a crowd of several hundred, including friends and family members.
Whether concrete, as on the playing fields and in the classroom, or intangible, working to better the lives of others or just being a caring friend, Becker operated on a plane few reach, let alone consolidate into an all-too-brief 28 years.
A three-sport captain, national winner of the Scholar-Athlete Milk Mustache of the Year award, managing editor of the award-winning student newspaper and president of the Interact Community Service Organization at Westhill. A magna cum laude graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. A distinguished senior management consultant for IBM.
Becker's personality was Type A, bull-in-a-china-shop, in a positive way. When others dangled their toes, Becker was the first one into the pool.
Which made Becker's death in October all the more painful.
"She had so much success, yet she was so modest, so humble," Becker's brother, Michael, recalled Sunday, when a backboard on the tennis court where she once dominated was unveiled, followed by a walk co-sponsored by the Stephanie Becker Fund and theAmerican Foundation for Suicide Prevention's Out of the Darkness program. "She not only did it all with ease, but was able to juggle things so effortlessly. She was charismatic and had a can-do attitude."
Michael was one of five speakers during the dedication ceremony, each of whom painted a common picture through different stories from all avenues of her life.
"What people need to know about Stephanie is she lived big and she lived bold," recalled Lauren Hubbert, a childhood friend and the Westhill Class of 2002 president, who was a driving force behind raising money for the backboard. "She was absolutely a firecracker. She was the first one to open her mouth and the first to be there for you. She was brave. In high school, when people don't know who they are yet, she knew who she was and was proud of that person."
Mike King, the Westhill athletic director, at the time was Becker's coach on the school's girls soccer team.
"She was extremely hard-working and had an unbelievable motor," King said. "She always put forth the ultimate effort and just wanted to be great."
The Westhill community, time and again, has rallied around its own in need. The tragedies have been too frequent. The annual Rae's Day Walk to Remember, in memory of former Westhill shortstop Rachel Sottosanti, is in three weeks. Her father, Dave Sottosanti, was one of the many walking the Westhill track Sunday.
Jonathan and Patti Becker's three children all etched permanent marks at Westhill. Michael a 2004 graduate, participated in many of the same activities as his older sister, while Julie, from the Class of 2008, is the girls basketball team's all-time scoring leader.
"The best way to sum it up is that she was my best friend and confidante," Michael Becker said. "She was my compass. She helped direct me in life."
The family is now doing the same with the Stephanie Becker Fund, which has already raised more than $80,000 in six months. They held a recent event at the University of Pennsylvania with actress Brittany Snow and a semester-long project for a fully accredited undergraduate class at Michael's alma mater, Emory University.
The fund's mission is to promote emotional health and resilience and remove the stigma associated with psychological health issues and their treatment.
"There are many other individuals who are also smart and successful and stumble," Michael said. "The effort is to help them make it through."
I knew Stephanie Becker well. I wrote several stories about her, most notably when she won her national award based on a "Got Milk?" campaign. I worked closely with her at Westhill when she was managing editor of The Westword student newspaper. She was an innate leader with innovative ideas, capable of giving direction in an instructive and non-dictatorial manner.
Stephanie made frequent visits to her sister's basketball games, and had a pinpoint memory for all the occasions that brought us together. There was more laughter than conversation.
"It didn't matter who you are, she treated you the same," Hubbert said. "She's been the same person since the first grade. She's always been brave, always been kind, and she didn't grow into it. She was born running."
As Michael pointed out, the fund was as much inspired by his sister's life efforts, which were often based on providing a guiding light to others.
Now, that light will continue to endure.
To donate or learn more about The Stephanie Becker Fund, see stephaniebeckerfund.com
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