Lebanese American University (LAU) hosted its inaugural gala at New York City's University Club on April 30, marking the first such event in North America in the university's long history.
Proceeds from the event will be used to help establish the Sarah Lanman Huntington Smith Fund, which will help to provide scholarships for students and support for the Institute of Women's Studies in the Arab World (IWSAW) at LAU, the first institute of its kind dedicated to the study of women in the Middle East.
Over 260 guests made up of longtime supporters, including alumni, attended the event and purchased over 20 tables as well as individual tickets. Some offered in-kind donations to help make the fundraising gala a success. The university also benefited from the great generosity and support of both individual donors and companies, including Middle East Airlines, Lebanon's national airline.
Members of LAU's Board of Trustees as well as the Board of International Advisors also traveled to New York to support the event, coming from as far away as Texas and California.
The gala provided an opportunity to celebrate LAU's rich heritage, including its ties to Sarah Lanman Huntington Smith, the American woman who, in 1834, started the first school for girls in the Ottoman Empire which was the precursor to LAU.
In addition to honoring the university's legacy, the event also served to recognize the service of two of Lebanon's most experienced diplomats. This year, Ambassador Antoine Chedid, Lebanon's ambassador to the U.S., and Ambassador Nawaf Salam, Lebanon's ambassador to the United Nations, were honored for their service to Lebanon and presented awards by LAU's president, Dr. Joseph Jabbra.
Both diplomats paid homage to LAU while accepting their awards. Ambassador Chedid noted the quality of the university's graduates, saying "We noticed with pride that more and more LAU graduates have assumed positions in various branches of the [Lebanese] government and in economic institutions."
Chedid also praised the university's resilience, noting how it established temporary campuses during the civil war in the 1980s in order to keep teaching students. Both ambassadors spoke enthusiastically about Lebanon today, noting that tourism is booming in Lebanon.
Ambassador Nawaf offered his gratitude to LAU for "giving Lebanon hope that it can grow and prosper as a true democracy." He also recognized the importance of LAU's heritage as an institution of higher learning for women.
The evening was hosted by Judge Jeanine Pirro, a long-serving politician and public servant in New York State, who is a noted television personality. Pirro -- who became the first woman in Westchester County, New York to become its chief prosecutor --proved an effective and amusing emcee, recounting her recent visit to Lebanon while keeping the large crowd entertained throughout the evening. Pirro herself is an American of Lebanese descent.
The university is committed to maintaining its focus on expanding educational opportunities for young people in need -- just like Sarah Smith did by providing Ottoman girls the opportunity when few others would.
LAU's endowment received a tremendous boost from guests at the event, enabling the university to continue in her footsteps. Although LAU regularly holds similar events like this in the Middle East, the first gala in North America proved how attractive LAU is to an influential community even far from its campuses.
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