Annual celebration of philanthropy introduces donors to the students whose educations they have helped enable.
By Ruth Steinhardt
Before last week, Elaine Hynds and Alisan Kula had never met. Ms. Hynds entered the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences last fall, while Dr. Kula received her M.D. from the school in 1990. But despite the 30-year gap between their times at GW, they play an essential part in each other’s lives. Ms. Hynds is part of GW’s Adopt-a-Doc scholarship program, and donations from Dr. Kula are supporting her medical education.
On Friday night, the two met for the first time—and almost immediately discovered they had more in common than just the scholarship that brought them together. Both were from the Washington, D.C., area. Neither came from a family of doctors. And both remembered their first impression of GW the same way.
“When I first got here, just to interview, I instantly felt comfortable,” Dr. Kula remembered.
“That’s exactly how I felt,” said Ms. Hynds, a smile lighting her face.
Ms. Hynds and Dr. Kula met at GW’s annual Power & Promise dinner, where GW students and the donors who have supported their education—more than 350 attendees—shared stories and made personal connections. The scholarships included under the Power & Promise umbrella help lower the cost of a GW education and reduce loan burdens by providing scholarships to qualified students regardless of their financial resources.
“This is something I’ve been looking forward to experiencing,” George Washington President Thomas J. LeBlanc said of his first Power & Promise celebration. “Power and Promise, and everything it stands for, is something that’s very meaningful to me personally.”
Dr. LeBlanc’s own story is one in which financial aid played a substantial role, he said. Growing up in a lower-middle-class family—“which is a euphemism,” according to Dr. LeBlanc—it was only his performance on a state aptitude test, and the scholarship that performance won him, that gave him and his brother the chance to be the first in their family to attend college. In many ways, Dr. LeBlanc said, he owed his career in higher education to “the generosity of strangers.”
Board of Trustees Chair Nelson Carbonell, Jr., B.S. ’85, attended GW on a full scholarship and has now endowed his own eponymous engineering scholarship fund. Two Carbonell scholars, Olivia Hoerle and Jay Lee, joined Mr. Carbonell at the dinner.
“I know that [students] sit here tonight thinking what a wonderful opportunity you’ve been given by the generous person you’re at the table with,” Mr. Carbonell said. “But let me tell you, I’m sitting at the table with you, and I’m the one getting the gift.”
A diverse and remarkable group of scholarship awardees shared their own experiences over the course of the evening. Featured students included Diana Lee, a medical student and child of immigrants who has started a self-care and wellness initiative for medical students and doctors; LaRodrick “KeShawn” Harris, a graduate student in political management who was formerly one of the youngest campaign managers in Georgia state political history; and law student Sacred B. Huff, who “experienced systemic failures firsthand” as she and her younger sister went through the foster care system and now works to remedy those failures.
Left to right: GW students Bradley Canaday, Sacred Huff and Diana Abdurakhmanova, GW First Lady and President Anne and Thomas LeBlanc, LaRodrick “KeShawn” Harris and Sushmita Malik. (Erin Scott)
At dinner tables and in the reception’s scholarship donor and student beneficiary match lounge, new this year, staff from GW Development and Alumni Relations helped students find and mingle with the specific people who helped get them to GW. It was in that room that Ms. Hynds and Dr. Kula found each other, their initial shyness gradually ebbing as they chatted.
“I wouldn’t be where I am if not for going to GW,” Dr. Kula said. “They did everything they could to make me feel supported. And now I feel like I’m in a place where I can do that, too.”