Pictured above, (l-r) Alumni Association President William Crean Jr. ’91; Jack L. Kelly ’67, P’96 (Alumni Service Award recipient); Dr. Ellen Umansky (Distinguished Faculty Award recipient); University President Rev. Jeffery P. von Arx, S.J.; Jasmine Fernandez ’12, student speaker; Paul J. Huston ’82 (Professional Achievement Award recipient); and Dinner Co-Chairs Michael McGuinness ’82, P’09, and Mark DeGennaro ’82.
by Virginia Weir
The 25th annual Fairfield Awards Dinner drew more than 400 guests to the Grand Hyatt in New York on April 25, raising more than $1.4 million for student scholarships.
Event co-chairs Michael McGuinness ’82, P’09, and Mark DeGennaro ’82 welcomed the crowd of alumni and friends and spoke of the importance of educational opportunity provided to Fairfield students through the Multicultural Scholarship Fund.
“With your support,” McGuinness said, “deserving students from many different backgrounds have access to a Fairfield education. The Awards Dinner really is a celebration of opportunity, and we should all be proud to be part of it.”
Paul J. Huston ’82, chairman of the University’s Board of Trustees, was honored with the Alumni Professional Achievement Award for his dedication to Fairfield University and his accomplishments in his field.
“It would be difficult to imagine a more hardworking or dedicated trustee than Paul,” noted University President Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J.
After graduation, Huston’s career was a steady rise, from six years in public accounting, to auditing at Merrill Lynch, to forming his own company, which he grew into a billion-dollar private equity firm. Recently, Huston started a new firm, Hudson Ferry Capital, partnering with entrepreneurs and family-owned businesses. “As I think back on the most important decisions of my life, Fairfield has always played a meaningful role,” said Huston, noting that he met his wife Linda through Fairfield. “Every step of my adult life, Fairfield’s influence has been present and directed my path.”
The Alumni Service Award was presented to Jack L. Kelly ’67, P’96, in recognition of his commitment to Fairfield. A University trustee since 2001, Jack is a longstanding member of the Awards Dinner Committee, and is also serving on his 45th Reunion Committee this year. He lectures regularly in the Dolan School of Business, and has been a mentor to many Fairfield alumni, stewarding a new generation of alumni toward involvement in their communities and with Fairfield.
“Fairfield has certainly changed for the better over the years, but I think that one of its greatest accomplishments is that it did so without losing its original identity and its focus on the student,” he said.
Dr. Ellen Umansky, the Carl and Dorothy Bennett professor of Judaic Studies, was honored with the Distinguished Faculty Award for her commitment to excellence in teaching and outstanding service as director of the Bennett Center. The Center was the University’s first academic center, and is the oldest Judaic Studies Center and interdisciplinary undergraduate program at any Jesuit college or university in the U.S.
The student speaker, Jasmine Fernandez ’12, thanked the guests for their scholarship support. “Both my struggles and my successes have shaped me into the woman I am today and I give thanks to Fairfield University for that,” she said. “Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to explore beyond the norm. I pledge to continue to live a life filled with intent, and service.”
Left: a proud moment for Dr. Ellen Umansky, the Carl and Dorothy Bennett professor of Judaic Studies, who received the Distinguished Faculty award. Top right: Gary Martin ’12, Peter Otoki ’08 and Will Johnson, associate dean of students and director of Student Diversity Programs. Bottom right: The student speaker, Jasmine Fernandez ’12, posed with her parents, Ana Delia Guzman and Julio A. Alvarado.
THE KEYNOTE SPEAKER
George J. Tenet, chairman of Allen and Company LLC and former director of the CIA from 1997 to 2004, gave the keynote address. The son of Greek and Albanian immigrants, Tenet has had a long career in public service, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor, in 2004. Tenet spoke eloquently of the importance of education and opportunity. (See excerpts from Mr. Tenet’s remarks at below.)
“The hope and opportunities you are providing to so many students is near and dear to my heart,” he said. “It is a night for great optimism. Our future is bright, because each of you is serving something other than yourselves.”
President von Arx expressed his gratitude to all who supported the event. “We remain committed to providing financial assistance to those students who need it,” he said. “This is at the forefront of our mission at Fairfield. Creating opportunities, opening doors, building bridges: This is who we are.”
DARE TO IMAGINE
George Tenet, chairman of Allen Co. & former director of the CIA, gave the keynote address at the 25th annual Fairfield Awards Dinner. The following are excerpts from his remarks.
First let me say what an honor it is to be with you tonight.
We are here tonight because of a core belief that your great university — your President, Fr. Jeffrey von Arx, your board, your professors and students — have resolved to dare to imagine that young men and women from all walks of life — irrespective of race, religion or economic well-being — should be free to realize their full potential. And Fairfield University has summoned the courage to act on that imagination.
My father left Greece and entered this country through Ellis Island just before the Great Depression. Speaking no English and without a nickel in his pocket or a friend in sight, he started out with nothing, and yet he made a success of a diner in Queens. My mother fled South Albania on a British submarine to escape communism — never to see her family again. Together, they built a life here based on faith, discipline — a love both for God and an adopted country where education was the path by which their sons could achieve anything.
Because of their devotion to work and reverence for education — my twin brother, Bill, and I were the first in our family to go to college. I know Fairfield takes great pride — justifiably so — that many of its students also are the first in their families to attend a university. Do you have any sense of what it is like for a young man or woman to believe that that they can achieve anything they want? It is simply an amazing feeling. In our case, my brother became a cardiologist — and I chose a career in public service. In no other country in the world could the sons of immigrants hope to serve in this way. Bill and I were able to achieve what we did thanks to the liberating power of education.
My brother and I were blessed because our mother and father were absolutely determined to do whatever it took. But not every child is lucky enough to have parents with the means to open the doorway to education for them. And that Dare to Imagine is why what Fairfield University is doing with its Multicultural Scholarship Fund is so wonderful. The good that you do, by helping young men and women achieve their dreams, benefits not just those students — it benefits all of us. Your generosity comes back to all of us in ways that we will never be able to imagine.
The most profound and lasting experience of my life came from my education at that other Jesuit University, in Washington, DC. What Georgetown did for me was to open my eyes to the need to think about the world from the perspective of men and women whose history, languages, struggles and religious beliefs were different than my own… Those experiences were the backbone of everything else that I was ever able to achieve in my professional life. But the teaching was incomplete.
Nearly 23 years later, the most humbling experience of my life occurred. As a new Director of the CIA, our African American employees wanted to meet with me. It was 1998, not 1958. Five hundred men and women crammed into our auditorium. For over three hours they rose one by one to tell me, often with great emotion, of years of disrespect, the lack of opportunity and the loss of hope.
I listened and realized that this kid from Queens, who grew up in an ethnic enclave, who had studied at a great university, really did not understand what men and women who were Americans had experienced. I was stunned, perhaps even ashamed, that during the course of my life I had never actually listened first hand to such stories. Initially, I believed that these stories could not be possible in the 20th century in the United States of America. But they were, and I will never forget that day for the rest of my life.
While we all hear and all say the right things, it is listening, absorbing, reflecting and acting that makes a difference. And a very big important place had failed to listen. Of course I knew my heart, spirit and faith had always put me in the right place with regard to the matter of race. But now as the leader I had to act quickly to restore trust, with passion, commitment and actions. That while we were absolutely committed to excellence, we as an institution would give all men and women the opportunity to succeed.
We became more diverse, attracting men and women of all colors, religions, and ethnic backgrounds. It was no longer an issue relegated to compliance officers. It was a business imperative in a very tough business. Simply celebrating diversity was done. We put our words into actions that benefitted our country. And along the way we earned the trust of men and women and inspired them to do great things.
The Fairfield community will benefit in a more lasting way from the students who cross their threshold — while they come to you to learn, they will leave you as teachers to everyone they encounter.
You are giving these kids the opportunity to examine their own preconceptions and the limits of their own cultures by engaging with others. It is this engagement, which leads to understanding and respect for, as Fr. von Arx has so eloquently stated “God’s love for the one who is different than me.”
Now, many of you here tonight may think that a former CIA Director talking about “love” is unusual. But in the world I lived in every day, I often reflected how much better life would have been had Israelis and Palestinians, Indians and Pakistanis, Serbs and Croats, Sunnis and Shias, (and maybe even Republicans and Democrats) had come to know each other as students, stripped of their baggage, free to engage, confront, tolerate, like, respect and yes, possibly even love each other.
We adults have made a hash of it — our hope, and Fairfield’s commitment, time, and money give me great optimism that, in fact, the kids may get it right. And the actions you are taking, will hopefully get replicated at institutions of learning all across our country and the world.
Our future is bright because each and every one of you by being here tonight, is serving something much larger than yourselves. It is bright because an institution like Fairfield University, true to its Jesuit traditions, reaches out to others to inspire hope and understanding. You should all be so very proud.