People and Community University

Scholarships bring brighter opportunities within reach

Students and donors gathered for the University of Miami Scholarship Donor Celebration to spotlight the power of scholarships to change lives.
Scholarship luncheon
Sebastian joins Provost Jeffrey Duerk, scholarship recipients Nathaly Gonzalez and Darrel Creary, and President Julio Frenk at the 2022 Scholarship Donor Celebration. Photo: Jenny Abreu for the University of Miami

Darrel Creary is the first in his family to attend college, after having overcome financial barriers that for his family became more daunting during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nathaly Gonzalez’s grandmother, who never went to school, kindled in Gonzalez a burning desire to learn and reach beyond the impoverished circumstances in which she had grown up. 

Creary and Gonzalez are among the many University of Miami students for whom scholarships have made higher education a reality. They recently gathered with dozens of their peers to thank donors whose generosity brings brighter futures within reach, at the 2022 Scholarship Donor Celebration held at Lakeside Village on the Coral Gables Campus. 

As the emcee, Creary, a first-year student in the School of Communication and Ronald A. Hammond Scholar, set the tone for the event by sharing some of his story. When he was 15, he immigrated to the United States from Jamaica along with his family. 

“I immediately faced new responsibilities, including helping my parents apply for jobs and taking care of my brother, who has autism, when my parents were away,” he said. “My family did not have [any] savings, so I knew from the start that a scholarship was my only ticket to college. And when the pandemic increased [our] economic problems, I questioned how I could provide for them if I wasn’t able to pursue the one thing I had come to the U.S. for—an education.” 

Academic success in high school earned Creary admission to the University of Miami and the scholarship support that, in his words, “has changed my life and that of my family.” 

Gonzalez, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences, spoke movingly of growing up in a family that, despite considerable poverty, prized education, and particularly languages, above all. 

“When I was applying to college, I wasn’t sure I would eat that day,” she said. “My parents always said that the greatest wealth they could share with me was the knowledge of languages.” 

The family was trilingual, speaking Spanish, Turkish, and the endangered Judeo-Spanish language Ladino. Gonzalez also learned English, and now studies French, as well as psychology and applied physics. 

Gonzalez’s grandmother, who could not read, would take Gonzalez to their local public library where, she recalled, “I would read every book that passed through my hands.” A French teacher at her middle school—who happened to be an alum of the College of Arts and Sciences—further fired her ambition and set her on the path to becoming a proud ’Cane. 

During her time at the U, Gonzalez said, “scholarships have made it possible for me to present original research at national conferences, publish in a peer-reviewed journal, put my culture on high, grow braver, and grow kinder.” 

The Scholarship Donor Celebration “is among my favorite events of the year because it reminds us that scholarships are not only valued, but also valuable to the University in attracting talent, helping students minimize financial barriers to higher education, improving our shared communities, and building brighter horizons for all,” said Jeffrey Duerk, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost, in his remarks. 

President Julio Frenk said the celebration “is [when] generosity stops being an ideal and becomes personified in these incredibly talented human beings. In this time of so much division in the world, we are reminded of what lifts the human spirit, this convergence of amazing talent and promise with the generosity of our donors.” 

Frenk thanked donors, including Heritage Society members who have made planned gifts to the University, for believing in the power and promise of the institution. “Your philanthropy makes a remarkable difference in [students’] lives and within whole communities as students go on to multiply the impact of your generosity through their own work and legacies,” he said. “This also reminds us that increasing scholarship funding to bring a University of Miami education within reach for more young people like those here today is our top priority in Ever Brighter: The Campaign for Our Next Century.”

Sydney Altbacker and Spencer Ford, both juniors in the Frost School of Music, performed a duet specially composed for the occasion, one that expressed gratitude for the opportunities realized through the generosity of scholarship donors. And in what has become a tradition at this event, Frenk asked the students, who stood in a circle around the Lakeside Village Expo Center, to pledge to pay it forward by supporting scholarship initiatives after they have graduated.

Gonzalez summed up the celebration’s purpose best: “Once upon a time, this University and the philanthropists who support its mission took a chance on me and gave me room to bloom where I was planted, let me see the stars, and let me belong. And I am very grateful.”