Education

UK to honor Comair Flight 5191 crash victim

Amid the mounting excitement and hectic last-minute preparations for her Aug. 26, 2006, wedding, Scarlett Parsley managed to somehow finish assignments for her graduate classes at the University of Kentucky.

She stopped by campus late on the Thursday before her wedding — UK's first week of classes — to drop off homework for her communication disorders class in the masters-level program she had fought so hard to get into. She scrambled to get the work done so she wouldn't fall behind while on her honeymoon at Disneyland.

A professor found her completed assignment slipped underneath the office door the following Monday, the day after Scarlett and her new husband, Jonathan Hooker, were killed in the crash of Comair Flight 5191.

On Saturday, Scarlett Parsley Hooker will be celebrated as the other 26 members of her class graduate in a ceremony meant not just to honor the accomplishments of the students but also the life of a classmate who left an indelible mark on them and the program.

"It's really important because she was there with us the whole time," said classmate Karen Hill, a Loretto native. She paused to fight back tears. "Her demeanor and presence was something we all used to bring us closer and get through grad school."

So the students and faculty decided that Hooker should be remembered during the College of Health Science commencement ceremony at 5 p.m. Saturday in the Singletary Center.

UK will present a certificate to her parents, John and Gloria Parsley, who will drive from their home in London and sit on stage with other special guests of the college.

"It's just such an honor for us in light of all the sadness and what might have been," Gloria Parsley said. "She wanted to be in this graduating class in speech pathology. That's what she wanted."

Patience paid off

Getting accepted to the communication disorders program, however, wasn't easy.

Scarlett Parsley received her undergraduate degree in anthropology from Centre College in 2004.

Only after that graduation did she decide to go into speech pathology, so she applied to UK's program in 2005.

The communication disorders program is selective, with about 25 students admitted into each class out of about 140 applicants, said Jodelle F. Deem, director of graduate studies and associate professor in the division of communication disorders.

Parsley didn't make the cut that year.

Despite the setback, she never complained, her mother said.

"She just tried so hard, and I remember her saying that when she did get in, she said she would be the tops in her class," Gloria Parsley said. "I had no doubt."

Scarlett Parsley enrolled in undergraduate speech pathology and science classes at UK to familiarize herself with material in hopes of trying again in 2006. That's also where she got to know some of the students who would be in her graduate classes.

"Once we got to know her a little bit, we realized we made a mistake. And that happens sometimes," Deem said. "You have 100 or so kids to choose from and sometimes in your best wisdom you don't take the best ones."

Parsley was admitted in spring 2006, just as she entered the final stages of planning her August wedding to Jonathan Hooker, a former UK pitcher who also played minor league ball for the White Sox organization.

"She was so elated. She was so excited," her mother recalled.

Because Parsley still needed pre-requisite science classes, she was on the three-year track. Other students in the 2009 graduating class who entered the program with related bachelor's degrees, such as Allison Meding, were on a two-year track and didn't join until a year after the crash.

Meding, though, grew up with Parsley in Laurel County and competed with her on the local country club's swim team, which Parsley later coached.

Meding, who graduated in 2007 from Eastern Kentucky University, decided to follow Parsley to UK's communication disorders masters programs.

"Part of the reason I decided to go to UK was I thought that it would be neat to go there and be in the class she was in," said Meding, who was among the 250 people who attended Scarlett and Jonathan's wedding at the Headley-Whitney Museum.

Meding recalled the wedding as a fairy tale, complete with the song When You Wish Upon a Star as one of the processionals.

And "fairy tale" was how Scarlett Parsley Hooker described it to her mother in a thank-you note she left behind for her.

Saying goodbye

Since the crash of Comair Flight 5191, which killed 49 of the 50 people on board, UK's communication disorder's program established the Scarlett Parsley Hooker award, presented to an outstanding graduating senior or master's student in speech pathology.

"What was most impressive about Scarlett was that she never complained. Never. She was simply always responsible, kind, gracious, quiet, and focused in her goal to become a speech-language pathologist," the award says.

Karen Hill, who took prerequisite courses with Parsley in spring 2006, was the first recipient of the award, in spring 2007, when she got her undergraduate degree.

"I've kept the award right by my desk," Hill said. "It's something I've looked to all through grad school. I looked at it all the time when I complained or felt sorry for myself."

In addition to the award, students and faculty wanted Hooker to have a big presence in Saturday's graduation ceremony.

Twenty-six students will cross the stage and receive their diplomas. Then, Scarlett Parsley Hooker's name will be called and the faculty will present the Parsley family with her degree.

The students and professors will wear scarlet ribbons with their robes in Hooker's honor. And each graduate will carry a lime-tinged colored rose — Hooker's favorite kind — that they will give to the Parsley family.

When it comes time for the group graduation picture, there will be 27 chairs. Hooker's will be empty save for a single rose.

"These are kids who haven't forgotten. She was their friend," Deem said. "This will be our last chance to say goodbye to her with her classmates."

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