WCU’S 41st Annual Presidential Gala Helps Fund the “Last Dollars” Students May Need to Graduate

Each year, West Chester University’s Annual Presidential Gala attracts numerous friends from throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to support an annual benefit that works to provide financial assistance to West Chester University students in good academic standing. In honor of President Christopher Fiorentino’s 41 years of extraordinary service and prior to his retirement in June, the Gala returned home to West Chester University on Friday, March 15, as the Sciences & Engineering Center and The Commons was transformed into a “Starry Night Soirée.” The newest building on campus featured a breathtaking 8k video wall presentation by Professor of Astronomy Marc Gagné and The Sandra F. Pritchard Mather Planetarium. NASA images, footage from the Webb and Hubble Space Telescopes, the Mars rovers, and planet flyby missions were among the spectacular images shown.

The special venue was fitting for a special request. President Fiorentino asked that all funds raised at the 41st Annual Presidential Gala be specifically directed to the University’s “Fund to Finish” — a fund that provides flexible, emergency funding to students when they have exhausted all other avenues of support to complete their degree at West Chester University.

Nearly 300 friends were anxious to shoot for the stars and answer the beloved president’s call to fund the “last dollars” students may need to graduate. The total amount raised at the Gala is currently in the process of being calculated. In existence for the past few years, the Fund to Finish has supported 170 West Chester University students.

“The Fund to Finish represents our shared mission as a community of educators to ensure every student has the resources needed to complete their education and cross the finish line to secure their hard-earned degrees,” said President Fiorentino to the guests in attendance. “Your generosity directly impacts lives, offering hope and opportunity to students like Erica, who had exhausted her loan eligibility even though she had nearly completed her nursing degree; Chayla, who worked full-time while carrying a full course load to stay afloat; and Kenisha, a single-mother who diligently worked to improve her family’s future. Thanks to your support, all three have triumphed over their obstacles to become proud Golden Ram alumni.

The Fund to Finish represented just one step in the larger journey to complete the 150Forward campaign, which is the largest comprehensive campaign that the University has launched in its history to support students. While a capital campaign supports bricks and mortar, the 150Forward campaign was specifically designed to help an even greater number of WCU students secure more scholarships; have increased opportunities for academic, civic and professional experiences; and obtain ready access to technological advancements.

At 9 p.m., a surprise, significant milestone was announced by Executive Director of the West Chester University Foundation Debra Cornelius; the 150Forward Campaign raised $69,512,930.82. The total exceeded the campaign’s overall goal by $4million and reached its highpoint three months prior to the June 30, 2024 deadline.

“We are genuinely excited to share this historic milestone with you,” said Ms. Cornelius. “To see the impact that these dollars will have on generations of students is truly humbling.”

Jasmine Seals, a graduate of Bucks County Community College and now a 25-year-old West Chester University student in her senior year, personified the impact of the campaign. She told the audience: “My parents raised my brother and me on the idea that they knew we could do better and be better than the situation they were in, [which was] living paycheck to paycheck, getting laid off, and having to work more than the average person might….

“When transferring into WCU, I worked two jobs…In the fall of 2023, I was stressed, worried, and scared about paying for tuition to get me through my senior year….In order to student teach, I would have to reduce my work hours and step away from working….What about my bills? My loan payments? My car or gas? Then, I got an email saying I had received a very generous scholarship that would allow me to finish my final semester. Like butter on fresh hot pancakes, my worries melted away…This scholarship changed my life and made things a whole lot easier for me to reach my dreams of being an educator.”

Since its inception in 1983, the Presidential Gala has raised more than $2 million dollars for West Chester University students. Gala Committee Co-Chairs for West Chester University’s 2024 Starry Night Soirée were Elizabeth Leonard and Stephen R. Leonard ’72, M’80.

For 2024, the following sponsored the 41st Annual Presidential Gala — Presenting Sponsor: Aramark. Diamond Sponsors: Jobsite Products, Inc. and MacElree Harvey. Titanium Sponsors: Radius Systems and Sodexo. Gold Sponsors: Arthur Hall Insurance; Bancroft Construction Company; First Bank; Hobbs & Company, Inc.; Meridian Bank; Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel LLP; and West Pharmaceutical Services, Inc. Silver Sponsors: Citadel Credit Union, NJM Insurance Group, Patricia & James P. Shinehouse ’80, and West Chester University Alumni Association. Bronze Sponsors: CALECO Laundry, The Elite Group, Fox Rothschild LLP, The Kienle Family, Martin’s Financial Consulting Group – Ameriprise, Philadelphia Phillies, S&T Bank, West Chester University Athletics, and Wistar Motors.

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