At Commencement, Newman University honors one graduating senior woman and one senior man with the highest student honor it bestows —the Ablah Award. The origin of this award was an endowed gift from Fran and Jeri Jabara, university benefactors, to honor the love of education advocated by their parents.
This award is based on two criteria: exemplification of the mission and spirt of Newman University and the potential of the award recipient to make a strong and positive contribution to society in the future. The students are nominated by faculty and staff and must have taken 62 credit hours at Newman with a cumulative G.P.A. of 3.0 or above. The students received a special plaque, $2,000 in cash, and are commemorated with mentors of their choice on the Mentor Wall in Gorges Atrium on campus.
Kelly Mai, a summa cum laude first generation college student of Vietnamese parents, graduated with degrees in psychology and criminal justice. As a new freshman student, Kelly was shy, unsure and worried but, in the words of a nominator, “that girl did a complete 180.” Kelly became a student leader in many ways, including Pi Gamma Mu Honor Society, the Gardening Club, the Multicultural Leadership Organization, the Asian Student Association, and Campus Ministry.
ASC Scholar Award recipients are required to do 45 hours of volunteer service each semester with a not-for-profit. Kelly has a heart for the people who live on the streets. She served and continues to volunteer with “Footprints I-C-T” and “Friends of Friends” who serve the basic needs of the folks without homes. Her senior ASC Capstone project was to collect socks for these folks, children and adults and personally, along with others, to give them when they gathered for a noon lunch that was served by volunteers.
In her reflection on her service experiences at Newman, Kelly wrote, “I often forget how incredibly privileged and blessed we are as disciples. One of the hardest lessons that I had to learn was that service is not about ourselves. As a servant leader, encountering others with an open heart and with compassion is vital to understanding the root of service. I am quite fortunate that I am able to witness God’s work through the people that I serve, along with the people that I encounter every week. Homeless people are the ones who understand and embrace the virtue of gratitude most, and they were the people that I look up to as a servant leader.”
Kelly wrote this in her personal mission statement, “It is my mission to lead others towards greatness and unity: in bringing people together, leading them to the path that they were meant to follow, through connecting with others, and strengthening relationships. It is my mission to love and to embrace gratitude, acceptance, patience, openness, and inclusiveness towards my neighbors. As a servant leader, it is my mission to put others before myself, to live authentically and to serve others through love. Today, I choose to live in the moment that God has given me, to view others through the eyes of God… I choose to use my voice, and I will use it wisely for the voices unheard. I will strive to live the life that God has called me to live. And above all, it is my mission to love.”
One nominator surely summed the reason for Kelly’s recognition, The most important contribution Kelly makes to campus life and community is LIVING her own words – “the purpose in life is just to love. Love itself is spectacular and it’s always there.”
Steven Nguyen, a magna cum laude first generation college student of Vietnamese immigrant parents, graduated with degrees in English and secondary education. This next academic year, Steven will return to his alma mater, Kapaun-Mount Carmel Catholic Secondary School in Wichita, as a teacher.
Described by a nominator as “an intelligent, caring, motivated and faith-filled student” Steven has been very involved in campus ministry, the Triathlon team and the President’s Student Cabinet. An avid disc golfer, he wrote a proposal this academic year for a nine basket course to be installed on campus (approved by the President’s Cabinet) and spearheaded the fund-raising for the equipment and installation.
Externally, Steven’s service has included three years as a Totus Tuus volunteer, facilitating camps and Catholic parish experiences for children 1-12. He also has served as a retreat leader and speaker for youth gatherings. Steve has been a team leader for Vagabond Missions, which gives inner city kids a safe environment and support to come talk and be. This is the group he chose for his capstone project. Enlisting the help of other disc golf enthusiasts on campus, Steve sponsored a “Saturday in the park” with young boys he had come to know. They were taught disc golf and enjoyed lunch and visiting with Steve and campus volunteers.
Reflecting on his service experiences, Steven wrote, “ I noticed that during my time at Newman, a good portion of my hours were spent serving children, the elderly, or the poor all within some sort of spiritual capacity. With the many people I have been able to serve, I have also met an infinite number of interpretations of the world. So in serving them, they have helped me live with an open heart ready to listen with compassion and empathy.”
In his personal mission statement Steven wrote, “A good leader should care so much that they go above and beyond. In a time when people look out for themselves, selflessness is often rare. I aim to be the light that attracts others to think outside of themselves and I will succeed through the help of my faith, my past experiences, my friends, and my servanthood.”
A total of 401 graduates received their Associate, Bachelors, and Masters degrees at the Friday afternoon, May 6, commencement ceremony at Hartman Arena. Larry Straub, the 2021 recipient of the Teaching Excellence Award, delivered the commencement address.