editor's essay

Shared Honors

Post-speech milling among the awardees.

Post-speech milling among the awardees. Photo: Angela Connery

The night began in the atrium. Clad in UB blue and black concert dress, members of female a cappella group the Royal Pitches belted out the Charles Fox standard “Killing Me Softly” as honorees milled about, hugging, shaking hands and posing for pictures with President Tripathi. About 50 specially invited students mingled easily with alumni, their presence appreciably lowering the crowd’s demographic and adding to the energetic vibe in the room.

Eventually the Pitches took to the stage, where they sang the alma mater and then transitioned to a lilting version of the spiritual “Wade in the Water.” Their divergent musical choices mirrored the wide-ranging talents of the 13 individuals who had come to the Center for the Arts on March 28 to receive UB Alumni Association Achievement Awards. The recipients had traveled here from as far away as Taiwan, and ranged in age from 33 to 91.

They were recognized for achievements in an array of fields, along with their community service and contributions to the university (see “Top of the Class”). Their ranks included a research chemist who was instrumental in bringing a failed cancer drug back to life as the breakthrough AIDS treatment AZT, a mechanical engineer who helped land the Curiosity rover on Mars, and an engineer whose Tech Savvy program for young girls captured White House honors. For a rank-and-file association member like myself, their accomplishments were awe-inspiring, and their humility astounding.

And yet Alumni Association President Carol Gloff managed to connect these very public triumphs with the unheralded activities of alumni everywhere. “Although each year we are able to recognize only a handful of alums, make no mistake—there are countless others,” she said. “In fact, there are over 230,000 alums of this university who work hard every day to impact and improve their communities, and our lives, in ways both large and small.”

Even with this reassurance, I wondered if I could draw inspiration from life stories such as these. Steven Shepsman, recipient of the Philip B. Wels Outstanding Service Award, helped answer this question with his pithy acceptance speech and everyman’s role at the ceremony. Allowing that he had “never come up with a cure for AIDS” or assembled the scientific, medical or engineering credentials of those sharing the dais, Shepsman made a blunt pronouncement that underscored Gloff’s point: “The thing about UB is that all the people up here are great, but they’re not that unique. I hate to tell you that!”

A ripple of surprise ran through the audience after Shepsman made this audacious statement. But his remarks make perfect sense when you consider how many friends, mentors, parents, professors, classmates and others undoubtedly helped and guided the awardees throughout their careers. With these thoughts in mind, I finally saw how their achievements are part of a collective experience to be shared and celebrated, even as nothing can diminish their individual deeds.

Ann Whitcher Gentzke, Editor