by Virginia Weir
Opportunity and transformation were the themes resonating throughout the evening during Fairfield University’s 26th annual Awards Dinner on April 10. In his welcome to more than 400 guests in the ballroom of the Grand Hyatt in New York, University President Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J., spoke of the “larger vision” of Jesuit education, and how graduates apply their talents and transform the world for the better.
“In our honorees tonight, we see some of the fruits of this transformative education,” he said. “As we celebrate their accomplishments… we renew our commitment to extend that opportunity for a Fairfield education to young women and men of promise who can most benefit from what we have to offer — regardless of their financial circumstances.”
Under the leadership of Committee Co-Chairs William and Peggy Atwell, P’08; Frank ’89 and Susan Carroll; and Gavin and Marybeth O’Connor ’88, the event celebrated the raising of over $2 million this year for needbased financial aid funds.
Cynthia Bigelow, the third-generation president and CEO of R.C. Bigelow Tea, and a donor to Fairfield University’s scholarships, was the keynote speaker.
“Education is clearly an essential component to having a life in which you have true choices in front of you,” she said. “I can tell you overwhelmingly — after spending quality time listening to students who have received these scholarships — your money is going to outstanding use.”
Each of the five honorees spoke eloquently about how Fairfield had transformed their lives.
Carlos Cardoso ’81 received the Alumni Professional Achievement Award for a successful career, which has led him to his current position as president and CEO of Kennametal Inc., a leading industrial technology company.
An immigrant, born in Angola, Africa, Cardoso spoke of “four fundamentals” that propelled his career: commitment, integrity, work ethic, and a great education at Fairfield which, he said, provided the foundation and language skills he needed to achieve his American dream.
The Alumni Service Award was given to Robert Berchem ’62, P’92, who was the first in his family to go to college. “My mother, Barbara, was determined that I should have the best education she could provide — and, more particularly, a Jesuit education. It was a life-changing decision,” Berchem said in a prerecorded video. He established the Barbara M. Berchem Scholarship for the benefit of other first-generation college students.
“Fairfield has grown much,” he said, “but it still is and must remain a stepping stone for those who aspire and for those who simply deserve a chance to succeed.”
When Gene Doris, the recipient of the Distinguished Faculty/Administrator Award, came on board as athletics director in 1994, the multi-million-dollar facility that is the Walsh Athletic Center did not exist.
Under Doris’ leadership, the University now boasts 20 varsity sports, a solid Division I standing, and has seen the Stags win the overall Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Commissioner’s Cup four times. “My greatest sense of pride is seeing young men and women come through the gates as student-athletes and leave as ‘men and women for others,’” Doris said.
Two additional awards were presented this year. Noted as a “passionate advocate for healthcare and a respected ambassador for Fairfield University,” Nancy Lynch, P’95, received the title of Honorary Alumna in recognition of her instrumental role in the launching of the School of Nursing Advisory Board. Lynch served as chair for two terms, and helped the School achieve national recognition.
She and her husband Roger Lynch ’63, a former University trustee and former chairman of the Board, have committed themselves to Fairfield for nearly 50 years. “Fairfield University is almost synonymous with the Lynch family,” she said. “Every time I drive onto the campus, I feel a sense of ownership knowing that we have played a role in advancing the DNA of the University.”
Fr. von Arx presented James and Linda Slattery, P’92, along with their daughter and son-in-law, Erin and Walter Appelle, with the first-ever Fairfield Award. The Slatterys formed a foundation in honor and memory of their son and brother Chris Slattery ’92, who lost his life in the events of September 11, 2001.
In a moving acceptance speech, Jim Slattery told the guests: “Chris loved people; he loved helping people; he loved the Fairfield University community; and he enjoyed a good game of golf, so we established the Christopher Slattery Memorial Scholarship and set about to raise money…to help students in need get a first-rate, Jesuit-inspired education.”
Over the past 10 years, the Slatterys have donated $1 million in support of the scholarship which has helped finance the educations of 16 Fairfield students.
THE KEYNOTE SPEAKER
In her address, Bigelow spoke of students she had met, including Rafique Vahora ’13 of Norwalk, Conn., who could not have pursued his dream of being an electrical engineer without the scholarship he received. Vahora received a NASA grant to create a biomedical device that measures bone density using infrared light.
She also told the story of Minhhieu Nguyen ’13, an accounting major, who was raised in Bridgeport, Conn., where his family moved from Vietnam after the war. As a commuter student, Nguyen was worried about not being able to make use of all the opportunities available, but “I was well accepted and integrated into the Jesuit education and college experience from day one.” Nguyen will continue at Fairfield next year to earn his master’s in accounting.
Bigelow praised the audience for supporting the University through scholarships. “These students were given an opportunity because of each one of you. Let me tell you, these kids are going to make this world a better place and they clearly know the need to give back. And they know that because of you — because of the chance that Fairfield University took on them.”