Wilkes University affirmed its commitment to educate first-generation college students with a highly successful event that raised more than $250,000 for scholarships. The inaugural Founders Gala, held June 7 at the Westmoreland Club in Wilkes-Barre, benefited the newly established First Generation Fund, which provides scholarships for students who are the first in their families to attend college. The amount raised is the highest from a single event in University history.
The event also marked the presentation of the University’s first President’s Medal to Joseph Savitz, a member of Wilkes’ Class of 1948 – its first graduating class after becoming a four-year institution. Savitz, a resident of Kingston, Pa., is a retired attorney and former chair of the University’s Board of Trustees.
In welcoming guests to the event, Wilkes President Patrick F. Leahy recalled that Wilkes was founded to educate first-generation college students and its commitment to those students continues.
“Wilkes has made a commitment since its beginning to support students who are the first in their family to pursue a college degree,” Leahy said. “This event is helping us to continue to serve this crucial component of our mission, our future, and serves as a celebration of our community and our past.”
At Wilkes, 95 percent of students receive either merit- or need-based financial aid, Leahy said. Among freshmen entering Wilkes in fall 2013, 41 percent was eligible for Pell grants, the federal aid program supporting those with the most economic need. And, 54 percent of those freshmen were the first in their families to seek a four-year degree.
Wilkes student Courtney Moyer, a sophomore political science major from Pottsville, Pa., represented first-generation students at the event. Thanking donors for their scholarship support, Moyer talked about the role scholarships have played in her decision to attend college.
“Had it not been for the generous scholarship and grants that I was offered through Wilkes University, college would not have happened for me,” Moyer said. “Out of the six schools I applied to, Wilkes was the only university I could actually afford to attend. The financial aid assistance that I am receiving here is crucial to me staying. College is everything to me. This is it; there is no back-up plan. These next few years hold the key to my future and they will ultimately determine the quality of my life once I graduate.”
Attorney Eugene Roth, a Wilkes alumnus and Wilkes-Barre resident, assisted Leahy in presenting the President’s Medal to Savitz, his former colleague at the Wilkes-Barre law firm of Rosenn, Jenkins & Greenwald LLP. The award, Wilkes’ highest honor, acknowledges someone who has helped enhance the student experience and advance the mission of the University. It was first time that the President’s Medal was presented. It will be given to individuals whose personal and professional lives reflect the highest aspirations of Wilkes University.
After graduating from Wilkes in 1948, Savitz earned a juris doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania and joined the Wilkes-Barre law firm of Rosenn, Jenkins & Greenwald LLP. He served as a Wilkes trustee from 1959 to 1994, holding the position of chairman from 1975 to 1978 and earning the title of trustee emeritus.