More than 180 guests gathered to recognize and honor Binghamton University’s alumni and their contributions to the University and society.
The Special Recognition Awards took place Friday night and included dinner, speeches and an awards ceremony. Speakers included President Harvey Stenger, award winners Geraldine MacDonald, Justin Joseph, Keith LaScalea and keynote speaker Sunny Hostin.
Hostin, a ‘90 graduate and a public legal analyst for CNN, spoke about how BU’s financial aid enabled her to go to college.
“People really cared about each other, and that was so different for me. They cared about each other’s success,” Hostin said. “I wouldn’t be here today if not for Binghamton.”
Gary Kunis, an honoree and a ‘73 graduate, said that the changes to BU’s alumni network since his graduation were monumental.
“The school really had no program to provide any services to alums or to reach out to alums,” Kunis said. “They didn’t have an event like this.”
Kunis, the University’s single largest donor, giving $1.6 million, earned his money as a software engineer and executive for Boeing and Cisco Systems. Kunis joined Cisco while it was just a 14-person startup company and earned millions from the growth of online communications.
He said that the award was less important to him than for University networking purposes.
“Part of being a major University is building a strong cadre of alums who’ve been extremely successful,” Kunis said. “For the school to have a program that honors its alums, brings them in, creates some sort of buzz — it’s more to the school.”
The ceremony has been awarding distinguished alumni for 50 years. This year, 11 alumni were recognized for their accomplishments. The event has grown nearly six-fold in the past two years, according to Steve Seepersaud, the communications manager for the Office of Alumni Relations.
“The new wrinkle is that we’ve had this ceremony take place during the alumni leaders’ conference,” Seepersaud said. “The conference last year was something new we did; we invited about 200 closely engaged alumni volunteers for a weekend of programs and then while that large audience is here, we give the awards.”
Seepersaud said a smaller awards ceremony used to be held in the fall during homecoming, but that the Alumni Association felt it was important to expand.
“We always felt it could be so much larger and the challenge was to find the right setting, right place and right time for it to all come together,” Seepersaud said. “The Alumni Conference last year filled up the Mandela Room, and that was phenomenal.”
While other speakers also credited BU as a reason for their current success, many said they were surprised by how rapidly the alumni network had grown.
“I’ve been doing the Metro Career fair for years and years, but short of that I was never aware of any alumni affairs or being involved with people,” said LaScalea, a ‘94 graduate, before his speech. “I think it’s really nice that the Alumni Association is trying to reach out and have more of a connection with former students.”