Emma Furlan learned she received the American Legion Legacy Scholarship in the spring of 2021 when the family was on a special vacation in Maine.
“It was a very emotional time already because it was my stepmother’s last vacation with us,” she said. “I cried because the scholarship is life-changing. It changed the whole trajectory of my educational path. I was able to join the honors program. I was extremely happy.”
The family vacation was in honor of Jillene Bertolini, Furlan’s stepmother. She was diagnosed with stage four metastatic pancreatic cancer in September 2020 and given one year to live. She passed away on Dec. 7, 2021.
It was Bertolini, who worked as a family counselor specializing in addiction treatment, who helped Furlan forge a path toward her career choice.
“We used to discuss a lot of case studies, including Sybil,” recalled Furlan, a freshman from Waterford, Conn., who plans to major in psychology and minor in English at Ohio State University. “She’s the one who really got me interested in psychology.”
Her father, Michael Furlan, retired from the Navy in 2020 after leaving the Marines in 2003 due to ankle reconstruction surgery for a service-related injury. He is a member of The American Legion in the Department of Connecticut.
“I consider my dad my hero,” she said. “I love my dad. Not only has he spent years serving his country but he is one of the smartest, most compassionate people I know. I do believe the service he has given to his country not only made him into the person he is but also molded our whole family.”
His 100 percent VA disability rating qualified his daughter for The American Legion Legacy Scholarship. The scholarship goes to children of post-9/11 veterans who were either killed while on active duty or have a combined disability rating of 50 percent or greater. (The application deadline is April 1. Learn more about the scholarship, eligibility criteria and how to apply here.)
The scholarship allowed Furlan to attend college at her primary choice, get into the honors college and avoid enormous debt.
“I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to come here. It means so much to me, especially considering the reason I was able to get in is because of my dad’s service. I see how it has impacted him,” she says, referring to his PTSD and depression. “I see that and I know there are tons of other children and others my age who are experiencing the exact same thing happening to their family. I am beyond grateful that the scholarship exists for students like me who have parents who served and deal with what happened in their service every single day.”
Ohio State accepted her into its honors program, a huge advantage over what schools in Connecticut were able to offer.
“It was important for me to go to school in Ohio because it’s a family school and it was the best educational opportunity I was offered,” she explained, noting her father received a bachelor’s in data analytics from Ohio State. “The school also has a lot of significance to my dad and I wanted to be a part of that. He told me about a lot of the memories he had here, and I also wanted to have those memories.”
Furlan works about 12 hours a week at a campus snack bar, making smoothies, coffee and acai bowls.
Without the scholarship, she would have faced two options: attend Ohio State and pile up debt that would take years to repay; or attend community college for a couple of years and work 30-hour weeks and attend her second choice, the University of Connecticut.
“The scholarship has allowed me to change my life in a lot of ways. It has allowed me to focus more on my studies. It has allowed me to devote time to my classes that I would not have been able to if I had not received it.”
She has come a long way from the girl who was distraught during her dad’s deployments. Furlan remembers his first deployment when she was 5.
“I routinely pulled tantrums at school and my mom would have to pull me out because I was disruptive to the other kids,” she recalled. “This continued until the summer when my dad returned. Then he deployed again in sixth grade. I was able to hold it better then when I was in school but I obviously missed him a lot and so did the rest of the family.”
By the time Furlan reached eighth grade, her father and stepmother had wed. Once again, he was deployed. “The entire time he was gone my stepmother and I would feel his absence.”
His final deployment concluded with a homecoming in July.
“When he came up to us, everything immediately felt better,” she said. “We were a whole family unit again. He didn’t deploy again after that but we still feel the effects of his service. He still deals with mental health. But at least we don’t have to miss him anymore.”
As Furlan strives to honor her father’s service and stepmother’s legacy, she also expresses gratitude for those who made her college dreams a reality.
“I would like to thank all of the veterans and the people who have donated to The American Legion and everyone who has donated to support children like me who are trying to receive their college education and essentially enjoy the freedom that our parents’ service has provided to us.”