A Serendipitous Connection

George and Sheliah smile for the camera at brunch

As a JDinteractive (JDi) student, George Saad L’25 has never let the distance from campus dampen his school spirit. On weekends, Saad often sports his favorite Syracuse University pullovers and baseball caps for comfortable afternoons around Phoenix, Arizona. It was one such weekend during brunch at a local diner that Saad’s Orange pride caught the attention of a fellow diner, Sheilah (Ragan) Lavelle ’59, L’62, leading to their introduction and the beginning of a remarkable bond.

Saad was fortunate to pursue his education in the United Kingdom before furthering his studies in Canada, where he attained both undergraduate and master’s degrees in economics. Subsequently, he ventured to the United States to embark on a career path centered on education and curriculum development. Despite achieving success in his field, Saad found himself grappling with frustration stemming from the complexities of the K-12 education system. Motivated by a desire for meaningful change, he pursued a career shift, earning a master’s in business administration (MBA) from Northeastern University.

It was during this transformative period that Saad discovered his passion for the law and commenced his quest for a J.D. He was particularly drawn to Syracuse Law’s JDi program, which offered him a pathway to realize his aspirations. Now enrolled as an online student, Saad is enjoying learning about the diverse practice of law and the deep bond he’s forged with his fellow JDi cohort, noting that “many have become lifelong friends.” Despite the physical distance separating him from campus, Syracuse Law is close to his heart, as evidenced by the Orange sweatshirt he proudly wore that fateful day in Phoenix.

George and Sheliah smile for the camera

It was Lavelle who first noticed the Orange pride, asking Saad if he was a Syracuse alumnus. They were excited to learn they both shared a connection to Syracuse Law. While Saad is one of the early cohorts in the school’s JDi program, Lavelle was a trailblazer in her own right, being one of only two females to graduate in the Class of 1962. Lavelle always wanted to be a lawyer, even as a child growing up in Central New York. However, in those times, many—including her own family—didn’t see the value in legal education for women. It was her stepmother that encouraged her to pursue her J.D., after receiving her undergraduate degree from Syracuse’s Martin J. Whitman School of Management. In 1975, she relocated to Arizona with her late husband, John, where she established her own practice advocating for indigent youth who had experienced sexual and physical abuse. Lavelle’s dedication to serving her community continued until her retirement. Now a widow, Lavelle lives alone with her two rescue dogs, Trixie and Lily.

What began as a casual conversation over coffee has blossomed into a profound friendship grounded in mutual respect and a love for Syracuse University. Despite their differing backgrounds and life experiences, Saad and Lavelle found common ground in their alma mater, forging a connection that has become dear to both. “She’s such a gem,” Saad remarks, sharing how he and his partner, Jason, have become close to Lavelle, often helping with chores around the home or enjoying conversations over brunch.

Along with Saad’s partner, Jason, the three have become pillars of support for each other, offering guidance, encouragement, and a listening ear when needed most. In February 2023, Lavelle was deeply saddened by the passing of her classmate and dear friend, Charlie Raffe ’60, L’62. After one of Saad’s visits to campus for a JDi Residency, he returned to Phoenix with a heartfelt gift for Lavelle—a printed copy of her Class of 1962 composite, featuring photos of the young Lavelle and Raffe. This thoughtful gesture, along with the friendship and camaraderie, was a touching moment for Lavelle. Whether it’s assisting with home projects or simply enjoying each other’s company, their bond continues to strengthen with each passing day.

As they reflect on their journey from strangers to friends, Saad and Lavelle are reminded of the profound impact a chance encounter can have on one’s life. Through their friendship, they exemplify the enduring spirit of the Syracuse University community—a community built on connections, shared experiences, and a commitment to making a difference in the world. Though their paths may have diverged, George Saad L’25 and Sheilah LaValle ’59, L’62 will forever be united by their love for Syracuse Law and the special bond they share.