Students address empowerment, gratitude at scholarship luncheon

Student Landon Coles speaks at the luncheon, as alumna Hilarie Bass, and fellow scholarship recipients Vilet Torrez, and Ezra Remer, listen. Photo: TJ Lievonen/University of Miami
By Emily Wilson

Student Landon Coles speaks at the luncheon, as alumna Hilarie Bass, and fellow scholarship recipients Vilet Torrez, and Ezra Remer, listen. Photo: TJ Lievonen/University of Miami

Students address empowerment, gratitude at scholarship luncheon

By Emily Wilson
During a panel discussion, students said they are grateful for the support they have received and want to pay it forward.

In expressing gratitude for his scholarship, Stamps Scholar Ezra Remer reflected on a mural he used to drive past in his native New Orleans that read: “I’m my ancestors’ wildest dream.”

Remer, a student in the University of Miami School of Communication, recalled his grandfather, who escaped from a concentration camp and hid from Nazis during World War II before coming to the United States with a dream of the future for his children. The scholarship assistance that Remer and other students receive “empowers us to carry on the hopes and dreams of our ancestors,” he said.

Remer was one of nine students, each from a different school or college, who, through video messages, introductions from the podium, and as panelists, shared their stories and appreciation at the 13th Annual Scholarship Donor Recognition Luncheon on Tuesday at the Watsco Center Fieldhouse. This annual event recognizes scholarship donors for their generosity and student recipients for their accomplishments. Thousands of students throughout the University of Miami receive some form of scholarship support.

Jeffrey Duerk, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, opened the luncheon by telling donors, “You are touching the future and helping bright students fulfill their passions, fulfill their potential, and most importantly, realize their ambitions.”

Following a performance by Coat of Pandas from the Frost School of Music, Hilarie Bass, alumna and chair of the University of Miami’s Board of Trustees, moderated a panel discussion with Remer and fellow students Landon Coles and Vilet Torrez. Bass said that the scholarship assistance she received was the single most important reason she chose to attend the University’s School of Law.

Coles, a Ronald A. Hammond Scholar at the College of Arts and Sciences, spoke of scholarship support as an investment that must be passed along.

“Every day that I rise up and every night that I go to sleep with the peace of mind of not having to worry about my financial situation, it’s because of that investment," Coles said. "Everything that I’ve been able to do as a result, volunteering here on this campus and in the community, traveling to Israel and Washington, D.C., all of that has been the result of that initial investment, and we must continue to pay it forward."

Torrez is a recipient of the George W. Jenkins Scholarship, which is given for achieving high academic merit and overcoming extreme adversity. A double major in mechanical engineering and psychology, she told attendees, “I’m here, and not just here—I’m studying my passion in two completely different fields. Without the scholarship support, that would have been impossible.” Torrez spoke about personal difficulties that she faced and expressed her gratitude for her scholarship.

“It doesn’t matter what amount you give to a scholarship,” she added. “Just having one, you’re telling students with hard circumstances, like me, that you believe in us, and that you think that we can do it, and that you want to see us succeed. And sometimes, for students in these circumstances, that’s all we really need as motivation to keep going.”

After Hurricane Maria devastated the Caribbean island nation of Dominica, Remer took his knowledge and passion for coffee and partnered with nonprofit corporations there to help replant coffee crops and stimulate the local economy. The sustainable agricultural project is now a nonprofit corporation with an established infrastructure.

In closing, President Julio Frenk emphasized the power of scholarships to transform lives, particulary those of students and the donors who support them. 

“It’s the marriage of incredible talent and promise on the one hand and incredible generosity and desire to build a legacy on the other,” said Frenk. “This luncheon is the opportunity to attach a human face to those two sides of that wonderful equation that highlights the best of the human spirit.”