Long before your children are born you try to plan their lives. You want them always to be safe and happy. You choose the safest town to live and raise them in, the best schools for a good education and you look forward to the day they graduate from college and begin a whole new life for themselves. You think about someday helping them to plan their wedding and hopefully becoming grandparents.
When Cherese was accepted into UCLA we were all so happy and proud of her. She loved the idea of being close enough to home so she could come back on the weekends and be with family and friends. Her first year there in the fall of 1994 she was very shy and kept to herself, however by the second year she really began to be a part of the school spirit, enjoying herself and making some wonderful friendships. She had a very special relationship with Brian Birkenstein, who wrote for the Daily Bruin and graduated last June with a major in geography. Cherese was very happy at UCLA and appreciated her wonderful teachers. She was proud to be a part of such a great school.
Cherese was a geography major with hopes of becoming a high school teacher and helping children. She was the most nonjudgmental person we knew and it was important for her to try and help people of all races, cultures, and religions to understand the importance of living together peacefully. Cherese would say "I want to make a difference in this world, no matter how small." And she did, by touching so many lives. Cherese would be graduating in June, as is her brother Todd, who is attending Cal. State Fullerton. Cherese enjoyed many sports, but her favorite was tennis and she was very good, just ask her brother Todd or her Dad. They loved to play together.
When she was growing up, Cherese often said, "Someday I'm going to Africa". We didn't realize she actually would before finishing college, but when a new friend she met at UCLA told her about his trip the year before with Semester at Sea, she knew she wanted to go the following year.
The time came and Cherese wrote an essay to the program and was accepted. Of the 550 students on this trip, Cherese was the only one from UCLA. After weeks of reading and deciding which extra trips to take, in addition to the required on-ship classroom studies, her itinerary was complete through the first half of the trip which brought her to India. On February 1, 1996 we took Cherese to the airport and cried as we hugged and kissed her goodbye.
Cherese's heart and soul revealed a rare quality of compassion, shyness, gratitude, beauty, humor and most of all, love. I would like to share something Cherese wrote in her journal written on Feb. 14, 1996. "I think a lot of students on the ship are here on vacation, but I am here for the opportunity to enrich my knowledge and gain a better understanding of the cultures, peoples and environments we will be visiting. Even more challenging is what I am learning about myself."
Cherese was learning so much, she knew how this trip was affecting her life and wondered how different she might view the world when she returned home. But sadly, and our hearts break when we say this, Cherese's life was tragically taken from her and all of us who dearly love her on March 27, 1996 while in India at the age of 21. Her itinerary in India had been changed, without her choice or knowledge, from an airplane trip to a bus trip at night on a very dangerous road. The bus overturned and crashed resulting in Cherese's and several other deaths. Needless to say there is a wrongful death lawsuit against the University of Pittsburgh who sponsored the Semester at Sea program.
We are lost without Cherese. She gave so much love and joy to all those she touched. We miss her more than we can put into words.
Because Cherese wanted to help children, we have created a foundation in her memory named "Cherese's Dreams." We are still working on the foundation but hopefully soon we will be able to help carry out "Cherese's Dreams" for her.
Larry, Chris & Todd Laulhere