Ashley Lutz decided during her junior year in high school that she wanted to become a nurse.
In May, after years of clinicals, classes and exams, the 22-year-old's wish came true when she walked across the stage to accept her pin and join the ranks of the other future nurses in her graduating class at UNC Charlotte School of Nursing.
To her parents, Chris and Lisa Lutz; her fiancé, Christopher Emory; and scores of instructors, colleagues and friends, the moment was bittersweet.
The wheelchair that took Ashley to the steps of the stage so she could walk across and shake hands with the dean was a reminder of the devastating news she had received just two weeks before: Ashley had learned she had advanced liver cancer.
The prognosis was not good, and she would die from the disease a few days after graduation, before she could put her degree to much use.
Her friends, colleagues and instructors, unwilling to let the memory of someone who epitomized the very nature of an ideal nurse fade, have established a scholarship in Ashley's name, to be awarded for the first time in May.
The Ashley Lutz Memorial Scholarship will be given to an undergraduate student who demonstrates community service and leadership in the field of nursing.
Those who worked beside Ashley during her path to becoming a nurse often describe her in the same terms: She was tender-hearted, determined and intelligent.
"Her nursing reflected her as a person," said Ann Hart, Ashley's clinical instructor.
"She was kind, compassionate, very soft-spoken, not easy to frazzle. The kind of person you would want to take care of you."
To her parents and fiancé, Ashley's career choice fit perfectly with the person they knew. Ashley had shown a compassionate spirit from an early age.
Christopher saw it in their youth, when she had eagerly learned how to take care of his special-needs sister, Joy. By the time she was 10 years old, Ashley could manage many of Joy's care-giving needs, including feeding her through a feeding tube without help.
Others saw that spirit, too.
"We all knew her," said Katie Preske, president of the Association of Nursing Students, for which Ashley served as treasurer. "She volunteered with us. She was in class with us.
"We just wanted her memory to live on."
Nothing can eliminate the waves of sadness that wash over parents each morning when they begin another day without the child they've brought into the world, but Lisa Lutz said the scholarship has brought her great peace.
"It means a lot to me, because I know it would mean a lot to her to help someone else," said Lisa. "That's just the kind of person she was.
"We are so happy and so proud that her memory is going to live on."