Briana Scott had been praying for a miracle. Then one day, the answer to her prayers came via a phone call. On the other end of the line was a representative from the University of Miami’s Office of Academic Enhancement who had telephoned the Port St. Lucie high school senior with the news she so desperately wanted to hear: the Ronald A. Hammond scholarship she had applied for was hers.
First a scream, then tears of joy. Scott, whose family had been adversely affected by the economic downturn, would no longer have to agonize over the dilemma of how she would pay for a substantial portion of her college education.
Nearly four years after receiving that full-tuition award, Scott is on the cusp of graduating with a degree in accounting and visual journalism. On Wednesday, during the annual Scholarship Donor Recognition Luncheon, which celebrates benefactors whose generosity enables students like Scott to attend the University, Scott said the Hammond Scholarship “means more to me than I can ever explain in a few minutes.”
More than 250 people attended the luncheon at the Student Activities Center, including 100 donors, many of them sitting at tables with the students who benefit directly from their support.
Students are the “lifeblood” of the University, and scholarships bring some of the most deserving to the institution, Sergio M. Gonzalez, senior vice president for university advancement and external affairs, told donors, going on to thank them for their “investment in our students.”
Scott was a prime example of that investment. UM has “pushed and challenged me,” said Scott, who first visited the Coral Gables campus as a tenth grader in high school and knew almost immediately that she wanted to become a Miami Hurricane. Last summer, she studied at King’s College London on a Fulbright fellowship—an experience, she said, that “opened my eyes and ignited a passion” for the study-abroad experience.
Donors received further evidence of what their contributions have fostered when Stamps Scholars Ariel Pocock and Robert Bruya, majors in studio music and jazz at the Frost School of Music, performed the popular Richard Whiting song “Too Marvelous for Words.”
Many of the students at the luncheon could not attend UM without the support of donors, noted Executive Vice President and Provost Thomas J. LeBlanc. “Currently, more than 70 percent of UM students require some form of financial assistance to pay for tuition and fees,” he said. “The University’s ultimate goal is to be able to meet the full difference between students’ ability to pay and the actual cost of attendance. Your visionary and generous scholarship support is helping us to reach this goal.”
Occasionally, unexpected crises can threaten to derail a student’s pursuit of a college degree, which is why UM alumnus and philanthropist Bruce E. Toll, after hearing about a student who slept in the backseat of his car because his parents could not afford room and board, decided to establish a scholarship that specifically deals with such emergencies.
“It’s important that everyone gets a full education and goes on to other things,” said Toll.
UM President Donna E. Shalala noted that her father went bankrupt the year she went to college. But she acted quickly, securing six different scholarships and an on-campus job to pay for her college education. “So I want the students to know that most of us actually were in situations they were in,” she said.
As she has done at previous Scholarship Donor Recognition Luncheons, Shalala had the students stand, raise their right hands, and pledge to support scholarship initiatives after they have graduated and become successful.