Paquito d'Rivera (right) and his band provided the music for the evening.
There was music, there was dancing, there was good food – and above all, there were memorable remarks given by some of the nation's most influential Latino leaders to inspire the next generation.
On Wednesday, October 19, the Joseph A. Unanue Latino Institute held its annual fundraiser/gala, Rumba 2016!, at the New York Athletic Club. Approximately 230 people attended the event, which honors prominent Latino leaders who make a positive impact on our society and raises funding for student scholarships.
After an official welcome by executive director Denisse Oller, Jaquelin Rivas-Tejada, a current Unanue scholar, shared a few words. The daughter of two El Salvadorian immigrants, Rivas-Tejada is a College of Nursing junior with a Spanish minor and the first of her family to attend college. She expressed her appreciation for donors like those in the room, who contribute to the scholarships that make it possible for both her and her peers to continue their education at Seton Hall. "Your generosity has inspired me to give back as well," she said as she described a community service project she has initiated in her hometown of Orange, New Jersey, through which she created a soccer program at the Don Bosco Youth Center so that high school students can "have fun, be themselves and play in a safe environment."
Executive director Denisse Oller (center) encourages her students to fulfill their potential as servant leaders.
Rivas-Tejada isn't the only Unanue scholar making a difference in the lives of others. Following her remarks, University president A. Gabriel Esteban took to the podium to acknowledge all that the Institute has achieved and the future leaders it has helped to develop, including Ana Campoverde, community manager for the American Cancer Society; Emilia Jerez, financial analyst at JP Morgan; Alex Moran, system programming analyst at UPS; and Adela Perez-Franco, who currently teaches English in Madrid on a Fulbright Scholarship.
"It is truly awesome and awe inspiring to see my mother and father's vision live out through these students," said Andy Unanue, son of Joseph and Carmen Ana Unanue, founders of the Institute. "My father always wanted the best education for me. I see the wonderful things that education can produce through the wonderful students at Seton Hall."
Later in the evening, the event's two emcees, David Novarro of WABC-NY's Eyewitness News and Adriana Vargas of Univision-NY, introduced the night's three honorees. Lillian Rodríguez López, vice president of stakeholder relations and customer PAC support for the Coca-Cola Company, received the Excelencia Award. Rodríguez López previously served as president of the Hispanic Federation, a non-profit membership organization of 100 Latino health and human service agencies in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. She has also worked with diversity councils at major corporations, including Nielsen, News Corporation and Comcast.
Lillian Rodríguez López accepts the Excelencia Award.
As she accepted the award, Rodríguez López acknowledged her fellow honorees and everyone in the room serving as a role model for so many young people who want to grow up, be entrepreneurs and make a difference in the Latino community. "If we don't invest in our own community, who will?" she asked. "We have to have a collective vision for who we can be as a community."
Eduardo Martinez, president of the UPS Foundation, received the Compromiso Award. Martinez joined UPS in 1976 as a package handler in Miami and gradually worked his way up to management. A former chairperson, he currently serves on the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on Humanitarian Response and on the UN Global Logistics Cluster's Logistics Emergency Team Steering Council. He also represents UPS on the Corporate Board of Advisors for The National Council of La Raza organization.
Eduardo Martinez (right) receives the Compromiso Award.
"It is a privilege to be here with young leaders who are already making a mark at Seton Hall and beyond," he said. "The UPS Foundation is very passionate about our communities; UPS employees have contributed 2.3 million hours of service. Our own Latino community has accomplished a great deal thanks to universities like Seton Hall. Tonight we are here to empower our next leaders with the skills they will need in the future."
The final award of the night, the Magno Award, was given to Bernie Williams, New York Yankees legend. Williams is a four-time World Series champion and a five-time all-star. Throughout the years he spent with the Yankees, his passion for music and education never waned. The star center fielder earned his Bachelor of Music from the Manhattan School of Music in May of 2016.
Manager Steve Fortunato accepts the Magno Award on behalf of Bernie Williams.
Due to a family emergency, Williams was unable to attend the event, but his manager Steve Fortunato accepted the award on his behalf. "I have always been an advocate for education, and to include arts, music and athletics into the curriculum," Williams had written in his remarks. He then described his work with the National Association of Music Merchants Foundation, which aims to do just that – before proudly announcing that this past year, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, which supports music education in K-12 programs. Williams also discussed his own recent educational milestone in hopes that it would inspire others. "After retirement, I knew it was time to follow my own advice about education and go back to school. I knew it would improve my thinking as a musician, as a performer, as a man," he wrote. "Here I was, a 45-year-old freshman, the 'old man' on campus. I am now a college graduate, with my bachelor's in jazz performance. I've gotten letters from people saying that I inspired them to go back to school as well."
"You are never too old to get an education," Williams concluded. "Never, ever stop learning."