Recipients of the Student Achievement Awards of 2019 were honored on the afternoon of Monday, April 29 in front of a backdrop of blooming cherry trees, which could be seen through the windows of the presentation room in the Aloysius P. Kelley, S.J. Center.
The event began around tables of refreshments and appetizers as attendees gathered and helped themselves to assorted vegetables and dip, spring rolls, bread and cheese. Murmurs of “congratulations!” and “thank you for coming,” spread through the room as attendees and awardees arrived. Soon, they took their seats and the ceremony began, and Susan Birge, associate vice president for health and wellness, stepped up to the podium to introduce the president of Fairfield University Mark R. Nemec, Ph.D..
“What we are celebrating here is Fairfield at its best,” said President Nemec, welcoming the students and their supporters. “We are celebrating our students at their best. Our students who embody not just all that we’ve been but all that we’re going to be.”
Birge prefaced that the achievement awards would go to “seniors who have shown exceptional dedication to and enhancement of a specific Fairfield University program, activity, organization or project. These seniors’ commitment to this activity has resulted in the activity’s new level of achievement that wouldn’t have been possible without them.”
Kathleen Byrnes, campus minister for social justice and community engagement, introduced Kathleen Curry ‘19 and Laura Hart ‘19, the first recipients of the student achievement awards for their commitment to open and civil dialogues as co-presidents of Students for Life, a club on campus with a pro-life mission. “Their passion, love, and clarity of vision is a refreshing take on an issue that is often seen as a battleground for both sides.”
Curry and Hart spent their acceptance speech reflecting graciously upon their involvement and leadership of Students for Life on campus. “Leading Students for Life has allowed us to grow in our commitment to the open and civil dialogue for which we are receiving our award this evening.”
Then Jeremy Kaler, associate director of the Office of Student Engagement presented the next award to Brian Daley ‘19, receiving his award for his commitment to student engagement and development through his work as a New Student Leader along with other involvement such as with the Fairfield University Student Association.
“He truly wants everyone around him to be their best selves and live their best lives,” said Kaler, “and he’s not afraid to put in the hard work to make the world around him a better place.”
Daley kept his acceptance speech short, thanking his family, friends, faculty and staff including the Office of Student Engagement.
Next, Pejay Lucky, associate director of residence life and advisor to the Black Student Union presented the final student achievement award to Sydney Williams ‘19, the founder of the Black Student Union on campus. “Sydney has amazed me with how she truly represents the Jesuit value, men and women for others. I have seen her meet with every member of the Black Student Union to ensure that they felt welcomed and supported, and to receive all the resources they needed to succeed in the Fairfield University community.”
Williams fought to maintain her composure as she began her speech by thanking those who have supported her, saying, “Oh my gosh, I’ve been really emotional,” and earning a collective laugh from the audience.
Reflecting on her time here, Williams recalled going from class to volleyball practice, meeting deadlines, and then “there was taking an entire summer to write constitution for the Black Student Union to be recognized as a club here at Fairfield University.”
“Looking back, little things like walking around campus in your BSU hoodie and acknowledge the next person with their BSU shirt was a basic privilege that we did not have when I was a first-year student,” continued Williams.
“Having your own exhibit in the library, and working with the school archivist to dig up the lost histories of black students at Fairfield U was once something that we could only dream of. Raising the money to be able to attend a conference and be in spaces where we were the majority for the weekend was something that we had to work extremely hard to accomplish. Starting a scholarship to award a hard-working member seemed impossible, but we did it nonetheless.”
Anita Deeg-Carlin, Ph.D., associate director of the international relations program at Fairfield then presented the William J. Kramer ‘60 Humanitarian Award to Eunsun “Sunny” Hong ‘19. In a heartfelt and even emotional description of Hong’s accomplishments, Deeg-Carlin recounted Hong’s designing of her own major, Global Public Health Sciences, and work with Starfish International, an organization that aims to advance girls’ education around the world, in Gambia. Hong thanked her family and friends, many of whom were in attendance.
Finally, member of the board of directors for Fairfield’s Alumni Association Hugh Morgan ‘69 presented the highest honor of the night, the St. Ignatius Loyola Medal, to Elisa Castelli ‘19. “Elisa’s commitment to the Ignatian Leadership Residential College program’s guiding questions—Who am I? Whose am I? Who am I Called to Be?—shines through everything that she does,” written in the program for the ceremony. “She is reflective, compassionate, and extremely hardworking, and always trying to better the experience of those around her.”
Castelli thanked her family and especially her friends, who she said took charge when getting her nominated for the award, spreading the word and asking “everyone they knew” to nominate her.