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‘We think he’d be really proud’: Columbia parents start scholarship at Hood College after son’s death

Columbia residents Mike and Polly Khoury said dealing with the grief after their son’s death has been unimaginable.

When times get hard, they just try to think about what made Jimmy happy.

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That’s why they are starting the James N. Khoury Memorial Prize at Hood College in Frederick. The scholarship will be awarded annually, starting this spring, to an English major at Hood to honor Jimmy, who graduated in 2015 with an English degree.

Jimmy Khoury grew up in Howard County and graduated from Atholton High School in 2008. He was an older brother to sister Laura, a project manager at a Washington law firm and a “forgiving Orioles fan,” said Polly Khoury a few days after Jimmy, 29, was struck and killed on the side of Interstate 95 by a drunken driver on Sept. 26, 2019.

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“We wanted to do something positive in his memory,” said Polly Khoury, 56. “He would call from college and say his professor liked his paper or he got a good grade, stuff like that. Those were some of the moments when he was his happiest, when he received acknowledgment for his hard work.”

“He was a great kid, and he was really committed to helping other people,” said Mike Khoury, 57.

When the Khourys first thought about starting the scholarship, they called Elizabeth Knapp, chair of the Department of English and Communication Arts at Hood. Knapp, who is also an associate professor at the college, taught Jimmy Khoury in multiple courses and said he was an “extraordinary student.”

“Jim was a very special student to me,” Knapp said. “He was a brilliant writer and thinker. He was really a reader and writer at heart. This is a very meaningful award for me, and I’m really happy to see this take shape because I think it would make Jim really happy.”

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Jimmy Khoury, 29, of Columbia, was struck and killed on the side of Interstate 95 in Arbutus by a drunken driver on Sept. 26, 2019. (Courtesy photo)
Jimmy Khoury, 29, of Columbia, was struck and killed on the side of Interstate 95 in Arbutus by a drunken driver on Sept. 26, 2019. (Courtesy photo) (Courtesy photo)

Last September, on the one-year anniversary of their son’s death, the Khourys set up a GoFundMe page, hoping to raise $1,000 for the prize.

Within days, though, the total increased to several thousand dollars. Now more than $15,000 has been raised by over 150 people.

“It made us feel overwhelmingly thankful for how kind and generous people can be,” Mike Khoury said. “That’s been our experience since he was killed by the drunk driver. It’s so easy to be negative about the world in a situation like this. This is one more example of the ultimate goodness of human beings, and we’re so thankful for the support we’ve been given.”

The driver, Cesar Jariel Morel-Cruz, 27, of Baltimore, pleaded guilty to negligent manslaughter with a motor vehicle and was sentenced Oct. 26 to serve two years in jail. He will be on supervised probation for five years upon release and must seek alcohol abuse treatment.

Professors in the English department at Hood will award the inaugural James N. Khoury Memorial Prize in April or May to an English major who is an excellent student.

Between their own money, the fundraiser on GoFundMe and money that the Khourys have left in their wills for the scholarship, Mike Khoury said he hopes the prize — $1,000 each year — will last for a long time.

“We think he’d be really proud,” he said. “He was so passionate about English, and he loved helping people. To be able to do something positive and to say something positive is coming out of this is what we stay focused on to keep ourselves together.”

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