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Commemorating A Young Life

Erin Peterson honored in song and dance.

Celeste Peterson (far left) and the members and mentors of the Westfield High Boys Leadership Today for Tomorrow group listen while Westfield Assistant Principal Pat Williams speaks. The boys receive grants from the Erin Peterson Fund to participate.

Celeste Peterson (far left) and the members and mentors of the Westfield High Boys Leadership Today for Tomorrow group listen while Westfield Assistant Principal Pat Williams speaks. The boys receive grants from the Erin Peterson Fund to participate. Photo by Bonnie Hobbs.

A day before the fifth anniversary of the tragedy at Virginia Tech, two local victims — Westfield High grads Erin Peterson and Reema Samaha — were honored and remembered at Mount Olive Baptist Church in Centreville.

Erin was commemorated in song and dance, last Sunday, April 15, during the Fifth Annual Erin Peterson Gospel Celebration of Life. And this year, the Erin Peterson Fund will award a Legacy Initiative educational scholarship in Reema’s name.

"She and Erin played soccer together in third grade," said Erin’s mother, Celeste Peterson. "At Virginia Tech, their rooms adjoined each other, and they were in French class together when they died."

Erin believed in excellence through education and, after her death, her parents established a fund in her name to help others achieve their educational goals. They also began the Leadership Today for Tomorrow group at Westfield High to provide guidance for at-risk youth. And to date, the Erin Peterson Fund has awarded $82,000 in grants and scholarships.

During the ceremony, Erin’s cousin, Tracy Littlejohn, Skyped from California and thanked the Centreville community for supporting Erin’s parents, Celeste and Grafton, after the loss of their daughter. She also praised Erin for "living such an inspired life."

Following the musical performances, some of the 35 members of the Leadership Today for Tomorrow group came forward and told the Petersons how much they appreciated their establishing the fund to give them better opportunities. The boys thanked them for "guiding us in the right direction," "giving us the motivation to learn lessons to have a brighter future" and "helping us become good leaders and successful in life."

"To date, 140 boys have gone through this program, and this has been a labor of love for us," said Westfield Assistant Principal Pat Williams. "They’re becoming wonderful citizens and we love each and every one of them. The group includes everyone from athletes to the prom king, and this is the only group if its kind in Fairfax County Public Schools."

Celeste Peterson also told the boys how much she cares about them and thanked God for making all things possible. Mount Olive’s pastor, the Rev. Eugene Johnson, then thanked the community for attending Sunday’s remembrance celebration for Erin.

"Erin was not only a spiritual person, but a religious person," he said. "Tragedy never leaves our minds, but a dream and a legacy can be used to bring joy from sadness