by Virginia Weir
Tradition in the midst of change was an evolving theme at the 27th annual Fairfield Awards Dinner at New York’s Grand Hyatt on April 9.
It was also an evening with an all-female (almost) cast of honorees and co-chairs.
Noting that he was “the only man among this prestigious line-up of co-chairs and honorees,” Event Co-chair Jack Kelly ’67, P’96, welcomed the crowd and went on to congratulate Fairfield’s first graduating class of women, the Class of 1974, of whom co-chair Joellin Comerford ’74 and honoree Joyce Phillips ’74 are members.
“So much has changed at Fairfield in those 40 years,” Kelly said. “Our University must grow and change with the times. And while we’re pleased that Fairfield is well-positioned for the times, we’re also grateful that our Jesuit values — of offering educational access to deserving students — and our traditions, such as tonight’s dinner, remain constant.”
The 27th annual event, which raised $605,000 in new funds in support of scholarships for Fairfield students, also celebrated all scholarship contributions since the 2013 Fairfield Awards Dinner, totaling over $4.2 million. Along with Kelly, Comerford and Sheila Kearney Davidson ’83 co-chaired the dinner committee of 44 alumni and parents.
In the tradition of the event, two University alumnae and a faculty member were also recognized for the highest levels of professional achievement, outstanding service, and commitment to academic excellence: Joyce M. Phillips ’74, Nancy A. Altobello ’80, and Shelley A. Phelan, PhD. (Read more about the honorees at www.fairfield.edu/awardsdinner.)
The featured keynote speaker was Juju Chang, an anchor on ABC News Nightline and two-time Emmy Award winner. She acknowledged and thanked her former boss, alumnus Bob Murphy ’71, a vice president at ABC, who invited her to speak at the event. Chang, who grew up in a Korean immigrant family “without a lot of disposable income,” told stories about her career in journalism and television where, over 27 years at ABC, she worked her way up from desk assistant to anchor.
Referring to her Korean heritage, her Jewish religion, and her strong commitment to her three sons, Chang later joked, “I’m a ‘Korean Jewish Tiger Mom’ — which means I feel a certain kinship with the Jesuits. We are all about education.”
As the newest of three anchors on Nightline, Chang said she appreciated the multiple perspectives the different anchors bring to the show. “A newsroom thrives when there are multiple viewpoints,” she said.
Expanding the metaphor, she praised Fairfield University for its efforts to promote access to education. Diversity, she noted, is “not just about your skin color; it’s about your perspective…Places like Fairfield help people live lives of purpose and meaning.”
In his remarks, University President Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J., spoke of changing times in higher education, but noted: “As a community, we also continue to embrace and take pride in our mission: to form young women and men of integrity who will go out into the world and change it for the better.”
Two special recognitions during the program prompted standing ovations. William Atwell, P’08, chairman of the Board of Trustees, offered a special toast in honor of Fr. von Arx’s 10th anniversary as president of the University. “We thank you for your vision; we commend you for your leadership and example, and we look forward in joining with you as you lead this University into the future,” he said.
The program concluded with a standing ovation at a special announcement from Fr. von Arx of a new lead gift to the University from John Meditz ’70, trustee, for $10 million “in support of the vision of our great institution.”