Comfort Munonye beams with pride when she talks about her daughter, Chinyere, describing the George Washington University senior psychological and brain sciences major as a kind soul with a bubbly personality.
“She's so positive, so hard working,” Comfort said. “We’re blessed to have her for a daughter.”
As her daughter’s biggest cheerleader, Comfort was more than happy to accompany Chinyere to the Celebration of Scholarships and Fellowships Dinner at the REACH at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The annual event brings together GW scholarship and fellowship recipients with the donors who help make their education possible.
Students and donors spent the evening sharing stories, laughs and tears of joy as they lauded talented students in pursuit of their academic goals and dreams.
GW President Mark S. Wrighton addressed the gathering, calling it a delight to see students and scholarship donors together in this celebration.
“One of the most important priorities of the university is enabling us to sustain our effort to bring people to George Washington University regardless of their financial circumstances,” Wrighton said. “We want to encourage accessibility and affordability. [GW’s] scholarship program is extraordinarily important to our future and to the future of those students that we support."
Scholarship and fellowship support is a priority at GW. In addition to the fundraising focus through Open Doors: The Centuries Initiative for Scholarships & Fellowships, the university is committed to increasing access to a GW education for undergraduate and graduate students. Over the past 10 years, GW increased undergraduate financial aid support by 61%. Recently, the university launched the Third Century Scholarship Endowment Match—the most significant dollar-for-dollar fundraising match in the university’s history—to support need-based, undergraduate endowed scholarships.
Comfort said the Lawrence-Klose Family Endowed Scholarship that her daughter received came as a blessing during a time when their family was going through a difficult financial period.
“We really needed it,” she said. “I had been laid off, and I didn’t know what we were going to do. I thought, ‘it’s in God’s hands now.’ So, when I heard she got the scholarship, I was so delighted,” Comfort said. “From the bottom of my heart, I’m so thankful to the donor.”
Chinyere, who is minoring in fine arts, said her scholarship serves as her inspiration to dream big so she can also help others in the future.
“It is a motivating factor for me to move forward academically and in my personal goals,” Chinyere said. “It reminds me that people want to see me succeed and that pushes me to persevere. It also removes a huge financial burden off me and my family.”
After graduation, Chinyere hopes to make an impact by inspiring other first-generation students with financial need in the same way her scholarship donors have inspired her. Chinyere’s career goal is to serve as a vehicle for positive change for underserved populations through the use of technological advancements.
Donna Arbide, the vice president for development and alumni relations, reminded those gathered at The REACH at the Kennedy Center that scholarships have a transformative impact on the lives of students—and donors themselves.
“The impact of your philanthropy transforms a life,” Arbide said. “This year alone, the folks in this room, this community, have helped over 100 students. This is what philanthropy is all about. Your scholarship philanthropy celebrates the positivity, hard work and resilience of amazing people – the students, of course, but also you.”
The dinner was an emotional night for Kalkidan Tefera, the recipient of the David S. Cohen Scholarship in Business. She is a first-year student at the School of Business studying sports management and marketing.
Her eyes welled up as she reflected on how much the scholarship has meant to her family.
“My parents have sacrificed a lot,” Tefera said. “As an immigrant, your family drops everything to come to a country they have no cultural connection to. They don’t even know the language.”
She said the scholarship removed financial burdens and worry, allowing her to focus on academics and internships. She aspires to work in the male-dominated field of sports management. As a woman of color, Tefera said, she hopes to open doors for other women who want to work in the sports industry in the same way that her scholarship has opened doors for her.
“Getting a degree is the least I can do to pay them back for everything they have done for me,” she said. “And honestly, it makes me happy that my parents can see the outcome of all those years of sacrifice.”
For Stephano Bonitto, a fourth-year medical student at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, the evening provided time for him to reconnect with the donors of his scholarship, Russell Libby, B.S. ‘74, M.D. ‘79, and Mary Schmidt.
Bonitto said that over the almost four years he’s known Libby and Schmidt, the two medical doctors have become amazing mentors who have shared a wealth of wisdom with him.
“Dr. Libby and Dr. Schmidt are books of information, and their mentorship is something I’ve come to appreciate,” he said. “Every time we talk, I learn something new from them. I'm just extremely grateful for all the help that they give me. I feel like I can't give enough to them to show them how grateful I am for it."