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Jessica Michelle Fertitta Excellence Fund for Student Advocacy & Civic Engagement

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Jessica Fertitta (second from the left) with her mother, Paige Meighen, and brothers Taylor Meighen and Parker Meighen (left to right).
Jessica Fertitta (second from the left) with her mother, Paige Meighen, and brothers Taylor Meighen and Parker Meighen (left to right).

Jessica Michelle Fertitta was born in Beaumont, Texas, on May 10, 1985, to parents Paige and Michael Patock.

Jessica's parents divorced when Jessica was very young and Jessica and Paige moved in with her grandparents, Vincent "Buddy" Fertitta and Dona Fertitta for three years until her mother remarried.

Jessica was deeply loved and the center of attention wherever she was. She was an eternal optimist and kept a collection of positive quotes and sayings shared by her mother and others. Her mother was her greatest fan and supported her in all that she did teaching her to believe she could do anything she set her mind to. Her mother later married Terry Meighen, and the couple had two sons, Taylor and Parker, who Jessica adored. She was a supportive friend and big sister to her brothers and they looked up to her with great admiration.

Jessica and her mother, Paige.
Jessica and her mother, Paige.

Jessica, always enthusiastic and ready for a challenge, started designing websites at the age of eleven. As the eighth grade president of the St. Anne Catholic School Student Council in Beaumont, she delivered a speech kicking off the school year that is school legend.

At Monsignor Kelly High School, Jessica made straight A’s, won many awards and led many school organizations, serving as senior class president, editor of the newspaper, prom chairman, World Leadership Congress finalist, the mock trial tournament top speaker and two-time champion, and Hugh O’Brian Leadership Ambassador.

Jessica enrolled at The University of Texas at Austin in 2003, attending on a full academic scholarship from the Terry Foundation. Like her high school career, Jessica’s time at UT was marked by distinction.

Jessica and her brothers, Taylor Meighen (left) and Parker Meighen (right), and her cousins Joseph, Jack, and William (front, from left to right).
Jessica and her brothers, Taylor Meighen (left) and Parker Meighen (right), and her cousins Joseph, Jack, and William (front, from left to right).

She held leadership positions at her sorority, Pi Beta Phi, was president of the University Panhellenic Council, and served in student government as an at-large representative twice.

Due to Jessica's prior commitment as President of the University Panhellenic Council, she did not have time to serve as the student body president.  However since politics was one of her deepest passions, she took great initiative and formed a new political party on campus which she named CONNECT. While she was campaign manager and leader of CONNECT, 35 members of her political party, including the president and vice president of the student body, were elected.  She was reelected a second time as representative at-large and received more votes than any other candidate for any other elected position. Her involvement in the CONNECT program was one of her most treasured accomplishments.

After graduating in 2007 with high honors and a spot on the National Dean’s List, Jessica worked for Texans for Greg Abbott and Fertitta Ventures and nannied for three children.

Jessica and her grandmother, Dona Fertitta
Jessica and her grandmother, Dona Fertitta

Jessica enrolled in UT Law School in 2009, again attending on scholarship. She was awarded the Irene S. Wischer Foundation Scholarship, the Military Officers Association of America Scholarship, the Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund (FEEAF) Award, and the FEEAF Super Scholarship. She was a second-year law student when she died in a vehicle fire on Feb. 20, 2011.

The flag in front of the Texas State Capital and the UT Tower flew at half-mast in Jessica’s honor. Both chambers of the state legislature fell silent in her honor and state Rep. Randy Weber announced, “This weekend we lost one of our own.”

Jessica’s boss, Sen. Mike Jackson, stood before the Senate chamber and sent his condolences to Jessica’s family, adding, “This is with a great deal of sadness and a heavy heart.”

Jackson said in a statement, “Jessica was a gifted, intelligent young woman, and my staff and I will miss her tremendously.”

Jessica and her grandfather, Vincent "Buddy" Fertitta.
Jessica and her grandfather, Vincent "Buddy" Fertitta.

While she was competitive as a student and leader, she found time to connect with those around her. She enjoyed life and made sure everyone she touched did, too. Her wit and sense of humor often overshadowed her accomplishments. She was social and outgoing, constantly coming up with new party ideas and ways to have fun and celebrate life.

Jessica was confident and upbeat from the time she was a child. As she grew more successful she was never too busy for her family and friends. She remained close with her childhood friends and role models.

Many believed that she would one day be president of the United States.

Her uncle, Vince Fertitta, spoke at her wake on behalf of her family. He said:

I’m not going to talk too much about how amazing Jessica was from the moment she was born. There’s nothing that you don’t already know. She was with her family as she was with you. She was smart, driven, beautiful and fun. She was warm, sincere, caring and hilarious. She was determined, focused, and resilient. She did not believe in excuses. She was bold and courageous yet sweet and loving. She was our princess, our angel, and our leader. She was merciful, clean of heart, and a peacemaker. She inspired us and warmed our hearts just like she did with you.

Her mother, Paige Meighen, was quoted as saying, “She was a woman of faith. This is a huge gain for heaven.”

Jessica summed up her positive outlook in an email she sent to friends:

Here’s my advice and something I am trying to implement in my life. Rather than attempt to swallow the ocean but not taste the salt, try sticking to rivers and streams. In other words, be gentle on yourself. Acknowledge that your mental and physical capacity can only handle so much. You can only ice so many cupcakes at one time before you go insane.

Take comfort in the fact that by allowing yourself to complete just a tiny portion of a project today, you are less likely to be overwhelmed, more likely to feel and associate a sense of accomplishment with the goal by finishing a small segment of it, and infinitely more likely to actually achieve what is it you’ve set out to do in the long run.

In the end, remember that it doesn’t matter how fast you’re going as long as you’re still going.

The Jessica Michelle Fertitta Excellence Fund for Student Advocacy & Civic Engagement was established by the Board of Regents of The University of Texas System on June 14, 2012, to benefit The University of Texas Vice President for Student Affairs. The endowment honors Ms. Jessica M. Fertitta. Gift funds were provided by family and friends.


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