Woman of Distinction Award Recipient: Sarah Lerner, Florida Atlantic ‘98

Sarah Lerner, an initiate of the Theta Iota Chapter at Florida Atlantic University, and is an English and journalism teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Sarah kept 15 students safe in her classroom on February 14, 2018 while a gunman opened fire at the school, killing 17 people and wounding 14 others.

In the months that followed, Sarah and the yearbook staff worked tirelessly to scrap the existing yearbook and put together a new version that honored the victims. They added pages for profiles of the students who died, and added pages to cover what happened on February 14 and in the weeks after. Sarah took the aftermath with a deep breath and has become a nationally sought-after speaker and educator about journalism, crisis, healing, using your voice, and moving forward together.

Sarah edited and published a 192-page book, Parkland Speaks. that features Parkland students’ writing about that day. It is an intimate collection of Parkland student’s poetry, eyewitness accounts, letters, speeches, journal entries, drawings, and photographs from the events of February 14 and its aftermath. A portion of proceeds from the book will go towards ShineMSD to help continue to create healing opportunities through the arts. Shine MSD was born to raise relief funds for victims and their families and provide mental health programs centered on the arts at Stoneman Douglas High School and Parkland. There is also a song written by her students called Shine that has been performed at the Tony Awards and other national venues benefitting ShineMSD.

Sarah presented at the Journalism Educators Association JEA on "Covering a tragic event in your publication". The National Scholastic Press Association NSPA unanimously voted and honored Sarah with the very first Courage & Commitment in Journalism Award. She has also won multiple Columbia Scholastic Press Association Awards for her yearbook publications and for her advising.

Sarah was nominated for the Woman of Distinction award by Cathy Billoni, a Panhellenic sister from Theta Phi Alpha. In her nomination form, Cathy wrote this about Sarah.

“Sarah is a role model for leadership, integrity, good stewardship, grace, and social change. I am proud to call her a Panhellenic sister and a hero representing the best of humanity that our very own sisters can relate to, learn from, and aspire to be like. In this day and age where code reds are becoming far too common, Sarah has gifted these future leaders to see past the things they had to endure and the fears of what could be, and taught them they truly can make a difference in their youth and not have to wait for tomorrow. This is not a political or specific point of view nomination –it is about encompassing pain from an event and making it into something useful, beautiful, and promising for the bigger good. That day was not by choice but Sarah's actions were and every day after that.”