Fairfield University raises record $600,000 for multicultural scholarships with the help of Merrill Lynch and General Electric CEOs


Merrill Lynch CEO E. Stanley O'Neal and GE CEO of Commercial Finance Michael Neal played key roles in Fairfield University's record-setting awards dinner in New York City Monday evening for the Alumni Multicultural Scholarship Fund that raised over $600,000, exceeding last year's result by more than 80 percent.

Mr. Neal, a trustee of Fairfield University who took on the job of chairing the dinner during one of its most challenging economic periods, said the dinner was started 15 years ago to "broaden access to higher education for multicultural scholars." Since its inception, the fund has had 50 scholarship recipients, he said, and "deeply affected the lives of these students. Fairfield is a better institution for having more diverse students in its midst."

"I am deeply grateful to Mike both for his generosity with his time and for his superb leadership as this year's Fairfield Awards Dinner Chairman," Fairfield University President, Rev. Aloysius P. Kelley, S.J., said, in remarks Monday evening. "Having heard Mike's report on the amount raised, you can fully appreciate how indebted Fairfield is to him for what he has accomplished for future generations of the University's multicultural scholarship recipients."

Mr. O'Neal was the keynote speaker for the dinner at the Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers that attracted 600 people, including some 50 corporate and business sponsors, many alumni, parents and friends, along with several Fairfield students who benefit from the scholarship.

Mr. O'Neal, born in rural Alabama, started his education in a one-room segregated school before his father moved the family to Atlanta, Ga., Mr. Neal's home state. Mr. O'Neal was one of the first students to integrate the high school there and while working part-time on a GM auto assembly line, earned a bachelor's degree in industrial administration from Kettering University, formerly known as the General Motors Institute, and then an MBA with distinction from Harvard University in 1978.

Education, he said, is what made possible his journey from "a segregated school in the south to an integrated boardroom in one of the most successful corporations in America." Still, he pointed out, "there are too many that don't have these opportunities available to them."

Education is the "key factor in getting a job, home mortgage, business loan" and other economic advantages, Mr. O'Neal said. "I feel passionately that the business community has a vital role to play. At Merrill Lynch we have made education our top philanthropic priority."

Begun in 1988, the dinner had raised more than $3 million for the endowed scholarship prior to Monday's event. In expressing his gratitude, Father Kelley said that many years of experience have shown that "Higher education offers an opportunity like no other in its potential to transform lives. Tapping into talents that might be otherwise lost creates a double blessing: one for the individuals who discover and develop their God-given gifts; the other for their classmates whose education is enriched by the presence of students from diverse cultures, varied backgrounds and multiple viewpoints."

"Fairfield University is grateful for the tremendous support it has received," said George E. Diffley, vice president for Advancement at Fairfield University. "The remarkable success of this year's multicultural scholarship fundraising effort, particularly in light of the difficult economic times we face, is a tribute to the hard work of Mike Neal and the 70 alumni who served on the Dinner Committee with him."

Father Kelley presented Mr. O'Neal with Fairfield University's Distinguished Leadership award and Mr. Neal with the Chairman's Award. Also honored at the dinner were two "pioneers" who helped open the university in 1947: Rev. Victor Leeber, S.J., a member of the first faculty, with the Honorary Alumnus Award; and Arthur Laske of Trumbull, Conn., a member of the first class (1951) at Fairfield with the Alumni Service Award. Also honored were Maive Scully of Fairfield, Conn., class of 1976 and senior vice president and chief financial officer of GE Consumer Finance operation in Stamford, Conn., with the Alumni Professional Achievement Award; and Kurt Schlichting, Ph.D., of Fairfield, Conn., class of 1970 and professor of sociology and anthropology at Fairfield, with the Distinguished Faculty/Administrator Award.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on April 4, 2003

Vol. 35, No. 255