NNA – A joyous mood permeated the grand ballroom in New York City where 250 alumni, friends, and trustees of LAU gathered September 15 to lend their unwavering support to the institution’s students.
With Lebanon still mired in an economic crisis, LAU’s financial aid has reached unprecedented scale, covering 85% of the student body. To maintain high standards, this has been accompanied by massive faculty and staff retention packages.
Initiatives such as the Legacy Scholarship Gala, which raised over $1 million both from attendees and from donors far and wide, are now critical to the university’s success in empowering new generations of professionals, creators, thinkers, entrepreneurs.
Kicking off with a surprise appearance by New York City mayor Eric Adams, the evening featured a succession of international honorees, special guests, lively appeals, and delightful music, all in celebration —and material support— of this great cause.
“The diaspora, of which many of you are a part, is Lebanon’s gift to humanity,” said Philip Stoltzfus, the chairman of LAU’s Board of Trustees. He described the Lebanese as “a people so talented and industrious that they lift and transform every community they adopt as their own.”
LAU president Michel E. Mawad appealedfor help “from the ranks of outstanding faculty, physicians, staff and students deeply committed to the pursuit of quality education and healthcare” and “on behalf of an institution that proudly embraces a dual identity of American and Lebanese.” He characterized the university as “an academic and professional lighthouse in the darkness of Lebanon.”
The call for support resonated throughout the event’s colorful program — and it did not go unheeded. The live appeal byauctioneer CK Swett drew swift responses throughout the room from beaming donors.
“We are here for the students, for their future and for the future of Lebanon,” and to “open doors for the students, which will undoubtedly have a lasting effect on their lives,” said gala committee co-chairs Zeina Fares and Micheline Nader, respectively.
“We need you more than ever right now,” said mayor Adams referring to institutions such as LAU. “[Our] children are undergoing so much — we’ve never had to go through what these young people are going through,” he said, before presenting a proclamation as a recognition “on behalf of 8.3 million New Yorkers.”
LAU’s two honorees received the Sarah Huntington Smith award with warm and forward-looking words.
“Education has been my anchor, my foundation of knowledge, and the source of valuable life lessons,” said basketball star Wael Arakji ’16, accepting the award on behalf of the national basketball team of Lebanon. “And tonight, I want to inspire and stand next to and behind the next generation in Lebanon … I want them to know that regardless of where they start, with hard work and dedication, they can aspire to greatness,” he added.
In a heartfelt impromptu speech, H.H. Sheikha Intisar AlSabah highlighted her fondness for Lebanon, the work of her NGO that helps women overcome violence and war trauma, and her upcoming return to serve as an LAU trustee again. “So if you were thinking of giving $1,000 before, make them $10,000, because there are a lot of students that need help,” she said to a captive and cheerful audience.
“I am so honored and proud to be here receiving this award … I promise you we will continue and increase our efforts to support all the students at LAU,” she said.
Mona Abou Hamzeh, the award-winning presenter of the TV show Talk of the Town,was also on hand as a special guest. She reaffirmed the importance of Lebanon’s diaspora in the recovery and reform efforts.
A special attendee this year was Jana Sharara, MD class of 2023. Her success exemplifies the triumph that is LAU’s financial aid program with the additional support of major donors, who were there to reinforce her safety net at the worst moments of the economic crisis. They did not let her fall, and that is what this event was all about.
The gala concluded with a musical feast by Guy Manoukian. — LAU