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CSU honors graduates at Alumni Awards

October 25, 2012

By Samah Assad

On Friday, Oct. 12, Cleveland State welcomed back alumni during Homecoming weekend by honoring nine graduates in the 22nd Distinguished Alumni Awards at the Wolstein Center.

This year’s honorees joined a group of 161 past recipients. Cleveland State’s Alumni Association has honored distinguished alumni annually since 1990.

A section of the Wolstein Center basketball courts were temporarily converted into a decorated reception area and ballroom for the event. Alumni and guests mingled over wine, fruit and hors d’oeuvres with live violin.

Guests later gathered into the ballroom for the awards ceremony. Seated at their numbered tables, they enjoyed a three-course-meal of salad, chicken and filet mignon, and dessert cupcakes.

Attendees included Maryjoyce Green, founder of Cleveland State’s Women’s Center, and Rob Spademan, assistant vice president for University Marketing.

President Ronald Berkman described the event as a “rite of passage” for alumni, recognizing those who have not only distinguished themselves in their careers, but also contributed to Cleveland State or the community.

“These individuals have excelled in their careers, committed to community service, and they are outstanding ambassadors of the university,” Berkman said.

He added that honoring alumni opens up the endless opportunities that Cleveland State students have at their fingertips.

“If you look at what these people have accomplished, it answers the question of, ‘Are there any boundaries with my CSU degree?’” Berkman said. “The answer is no.”

Award recipients included Timothy F. Hagan (Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs), Dr. Daniel J. Keenan, Jr. (College of Education and Human Services), Dr. Ruth D. Peterson (College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences), Larry H. James (Cleveland-Marshall of Law) and Thomas E. Hopkins (College of Sciences and Health Professions).
William J. Centa (Monte Ahuja College of Business), Shiela M. Niles (School of Nursing), George J. Palko (Fenn College of Engineering) and Erin D. Huber (Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs) were also honored.

Hagan, a 1975 Urban Studies graduate and one of the longest-serving members of the Cuyahoga County Board of Commissioners, received the George B. Davis Award for service to the university. The award recognizes a graduate’s dedication toward the growth and advancement of Cleveland State.

Returning alumni such as Hagan were in awe of the substantial physical transformation that Cleveland State has seen since they were last students. Hagan recalled there only being 5,000 students and two buildings when he was a student, which has evolved into what is currently more than 17,000 students and nine colleges.

“[Cleveland State] is now the center piece for the city of Cleveland, and many years ago it wasn’t,” Hagan said. “The physical plant of this university is now a footprint in this city, and I’m honored to be a part of this with the eight other people.”

James, another honoree, graduated from Cleveland-Marshall College of Law in 1977 and is currently an attorney for Crabbe, Brown & James law firm. He described the university’s physical structure as “breathtaking,” particularly the law school.

“I can’t explain–it takes your breath away,” James said. “It’s much more inviting, pleasing and conducive to learning and helping students become more employable.”
The location and characteristics of Cleveland State, James said, is the prime reasons why he believes CSU speaks to the issues of America better than any other institution.

“When you take the ingredients in what CSU has to offer, it’s just going to continue to grow,” he said.

Along with connecting to the community, alumni, such as 2011 graduate Huber founded organizations that benefit communities locally, nationally and internationally.

Huber, who received her master’s degree in Urban Studies, founded ‘Drink Local. Drink Tap.’, a non-profit organization that educates and reconnects people to local water around the globe through hands-on activities.

According to Huber, she wasn’t expecting to be honored for her contributions–things she does out of pure passion and love for helping society.

“Sometimes when you’re doing your daily job, you don’t really realize what you’re doing,” Huber said. “All those hard years you sweated and stayed up late in college trying to better your life, it feels like it all just comes together once you get an honor. It’s like the tip of the mountain.”

Richard Stovsky, 2011 alumni and this year’s emcee, opened the ceremony by recognizing a student for her leadership presence on campus with the Distinguished Leadership for Scholarship Award.

According to Janis Wirt, member of the Alumni Association board and co-chair of the awards, it was important to add the student award this year as it provides a positive influence for Cleveland State students.

“I think all of us have something in us where we would like to do something to contribute to the community and also be recognized for it,” Wirt said. “I know that [the awards] affect the student body.”

Cynthia “CJ” Johnstone, a Graphic and Web Design major and founder of Cleveland State’s Single-Parent Student Network, accepted the award and spoke on her life struggles. A high school dropout who later had a child, Johnstone realized her life had to change so that she could become a positive role model for her daughter.

After receiving her GED, she enrolled in Cuyahoga Community College and later transferred to Cleveland State. With the scholarship, Johnstone was able to quit one of her three jobs and better focus on her studies.

“Being up here on stage is something I never thought I’d be doing,” Johnstone said when she received her award. “I never considered myself a leader, always a doer.”

Brief video clips in which each honoree reminisced about their Cleveland State memories played at the ceremony before each alumnus accepted their award.

Berkman concluded the ceremony by stressing the lasting impact that the honored alumni have on both Cleveland State and its students.

“[The alumni] have achieved so much, given back just as much and are most deserving of this,” Berkman said. “They’re examples for what CSU does best — providing students an engaged learning experience that prepares them for their careers and citizenship in Cleveland. For all you alumni, welcome home.”