On the sixth floor of the North Avenue Academic Building at Kean University, over 70 students were honored at the Who's Who Among Students in Colleges and Universities event on the evening of Monday, April 24, 2017.
From 6 p.m to 8 p.m., honorees were gifted plaques, as those awarded were nominated by the faculty and staff of Kean University.
The award honored juniors, seniors and graduate students who exemplified above-average performance in leadership ability, service to the Kean community and academic ability. These students distinguished themselves through their campus organizational affiliations, community service and personal achievement.
Within the room, round tables coated with navy blue drapes, silky white towels and a pristine miniature vase decorated with white flowers were set for the honorees, their classmates and family. Parents and other friends would greet one another and make connections with other award winners at these tables. In the distance, four dark blue flags on the left and four on the right side of the speaking podium with silver lettering commemorated the schools of study the university has to offer.
Two flat screen televisions would add to the fancy aesthetic of the event as they continuously displayed the 77 award winners of the night. Attendees would also walk into a room musically encased by the sounds of the talented pianist Shirley Wang, a Kean University student.
As the lovely night continued, proud parents and friends continued to await the ceremony while settling in to their seats.
The night began with the first speaker, Maximina Rivera, giving salutations to the students picked to win an award that night.
Within this opening speech, Rivera, widely known as the assistant vice president of the Office of Residential Student Services, also gave the history of the event. The honor program began in 1934 with a student athlete at the University of Alabama who excelled in the classroom and earned several offers to join honors societies, but could not afford the membership fees. She explained that his monetary struggles motivated him to start a new award, an honors program based on overall achievement and not financial ability.
It was only Rivera's first time assisting in the presentation of this annual event, but it was an experience that the assistant vice president of Residential Student Services would always remember.
"To honor students who have worked so hard and to hear about all of their accomplishments they have made, it is just amazing. It goes back to the idea that they are helping to contribute to Kean and the university contributes back to them, and it makes everyone just stronger and better. I am so happy for them," Rivera said.
Guests were then treated to a fantastic dinner composed of chicken, mashed potatoes and salad, with a dessert of berries, pound cake and whipped cream. Shortly after the delightful meal was enjoyed by the audience, Scott Snowden, the director of the Center for Leadership and Service, began the award presentations.
Each student had their name called, and while walking to the podium, they were met with resonant applause from the entire audience. Snowden gave small summaries of the students as they walked up to get their award as well.
Tahjane Whitsett, the recently-elected Senior Class president for the Class of 2018, award recipient and a business management major, commented on her success in winning the gold plaque.
"It feels good, just to be recognized...," Whitsett said. "This [award] is...something where [you]...say 'I got honors for an award.'"
The 77 honorees included notable names that would be recognized by the Kean community.
Asa Dugger was one of these award winners, and is a junior communication major who has served as the executive vice president of Student Organization (the full-time undergraduate student government) and a current member of the Lambda Pi Eta Communication Honor society.
Another winner, Terrence Somesla-McCornell, is a graduating senior who will have a degree in special education who serves as the vice president of public relations and multicultural affairs for Kean University's Greek Senate.
One other nominee, Victor Suarez, is a junior majoring in molecular biology and biotechnology who has secured a paid research internship with Brandeis University while being able to present research results to a national convention in Tampa, Florida.
These students were nominated by professors, administrators and other faculty members who witnessed these students' growth, academically and professionally. After the last honoree was announced, hugs were exchanged, photographs of friends and families were taken and student winners held their golden plaques with pride, honor and certain distinction.
Certainly, the feeling of obtaining the golden plaques with their names engraved in it appeared as gratifying to the students who achieved an award. Award recipient and Residential Assistant Alexis Morales commented on this.
"This is on a plaque. I do not have any plaques," Morales said, "I have gotten papers and certificates, but there is nothing like a golden plaque!"