$408,000 in Scholarships Awarded to 34 High School Seniors

It was a day of celebration on June 21, when 34 children of our union’s members were awarded a total of $408,000 in college scholarships. It was by far the largest amount of money ever awarded in a single year since the program’s inception in 1987. To date, the scholarship program has now awarded a total of $8,768,000 in grants to 1,080 students. It is money well spent. Past surveys have revealed that the program has had an outstanding record of success — virtually all previous recipients finished college or graduate school or are still pursuing their education.

The union’s 2019 scholarship winners.

The awards ceremony was held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. At coffee a reception held before the ceremony, Peter Ward, Funds CEO Dr. Robert Greenspan, and other representatives of the union, the Benefit Funds and the hotel industry met personally with students and their families. Photos were taken to memorialize the event, which serves as evidence of the great success the scholarship recipients have already had. Those photos may be viewed and downloaded at the Benefit Funds website.

Later, scholarship director Andrew Windsor began the ceremony by welcoming the winners and their families, as well as the union and management representatives who were present. He was followed by Hotel Association President Vijay Dandapani, Peter Ward and Dr. Greenspan.

Dandapani told the students he was awestruck by their accomplishments. Dandapani said that as an immigrant himself he was deeply proud of the fact that so many of the scholarship recipients were immigrants or children of immigrants. “Your achievements dispel the notion that immigrants are a burden on American society,” he told the students and their parents.

In his remarks Ward also noted the ties between the Hotel Trades Council and immigration. He noted that the union was founded in the 1930s by its first president, Jay Rubin, an immigrant from Poland. Ward added that the second president of the union, Vito Pitta, was also an immigrant. Pitta came to the U.S. from Sicily, arriving through Ellis Island and residing in Brooklyn. Ward said Pitta left school because the city’s education department insisted that he go into vocational training to become a shoemaker. Pitta eventually found his way to a job in the hotel industry and rose through the ranks to head the HTC in 1978. Pitta fought for — and won — the scholarship program that is now named for him.

“This scholarship program is Vito Pitta’s most lasting achievement, and I’m proud to be part of it,” Ward said.

Ward noted that he was the first Hotel Trades Council president who was born in the U.S. He said that the New York City hotel industry has always been a job source for immigrants and that the union makes them a part of the fabric of American society, while providing them with a dignified work environment, and benefits such as family health care and pensions. “It is your parents’ hard work that allows you, the scholarship winners, to be here today and so I’d like to recognize them,” he said, and the room erupted into a loud and long round of applause.

Ward added that the awards ceremony was a strong argument against those who are anti-immigrant. “I defy anyone who is anti-immigrant to come into this room today and say that America can afford to lose the extraordinary talent that is on display here. In fact, you give way more to us than we give to you, and I’m really proud to be here with you today.”

As has become customary at the annual awards ceremony, Ward was followed by Dr. Robert Greenspan, CEO of the Benefit Funds, whose annual words of wisdom to the scholarship recipients have become legendary. But this year’s introduction of Greenspan was particularly poignant, as he will be retiring later this year.

“Dr, Greenspan has been with us for more than 40 years,” Ward said. “He first became dental director and some years ago became Chief Executive Officer of our Benefit Funds.”

Ward said that Greenspan had vision, but that unlike many others he was able to actualize that vision. “Lots of people have ideas but Dr. Greenspan knows how to put his ideas into practice. It was Dr. Greenspan who created the unique delivery system at the Brooklyn Health Center that has become a model for so many other health plans,” he said.

Ward described Greenspan as “a leader who gets things done.” He said Greenspan was a team player who wasn’t afraid to share credit, noting that Greenspan’s predecessor as Funds CEO, Linda McDowell, and his successor, Dr. David Jacobson, were also present.

“Dr. Greenspan played by the rules and did everything right,” Ward said. “Every single member of our union, as well as their spouses and children, have benefited from his work. No one has had more of a positive impact on more people in our union and our industry as Dr. Greenspan.”

As usual, Dr. Greenspan’s remarks were very well received by the students and their parents — in fact, he received a standing ovation — and his comments are reprinted in this edition of Hotel Voice.

Following Greenspan’s speech Dr. Larence Momo, the head of the scholarship selection committee, congratulated the students on their many accomplishments.

“I have been involved with the scholarship program for many years and I can report that you are an extraordinary group of winners,” Momo said. “You come from high schools throughout the tri-state area and from backgrounds and cultures that span the globe.”

Momo also had some important words of advice for the scholarship recipients. “By my count. All but two of you will turn 18 before Election Day on November 8th,” he said. “You must vote. You must do so because you are smart and the more intelligent our electorate is the better our elected officials will be.”

Momo also explained that the scholarship selection committee had a very difficult time choosing this year’s awards recipients because so many talented students had applied. Momo then announced the names of all the 34 recipients, and each came to the front to a round of applause to accept their scholarship certificate.

After the presentation of the award certificates, all scholarship recipients were asked to stand. When they did so, they received a strong round of applause. Then the parents of the winners were asked to stand. They received an even stronger salute for their hard work and dedication, as their children and union and management representatives broke into a thunderous appreciation.

Missing from this year's ceremony was Mr. Mario Gabelli, whose father, Joseph Gabelli, was a Local 6 and Hotel Trades Council member for more than 30 years. Mario Gabelli and the Gabelli Foundation donated $25,000 to the scholarship fund in 2017 and again in 2018, and this year contributed $50,000. Mr. Gabelli’s generosity has enabled additional awards, which is especially appreciated this year, when the amount of individual scholarships increased from $8,000 per student to $12,000. Although Mario Gabelli was unable to attend the awards ceremony this year, he was thanked publicly by Ward and Greenspan and he received an appreciative acknowledgement from those present.

As noted, the scholarship program is a competition, with applications available in January to high school seniors who will be attending a four-year college in the fall. Final decisions are based on academic record, extra-curricula activities, community service, financial need, and other factors. The recipients are chosen by the scholarship selection committee that is comprised of professional educators. Neither the union nor management has any say in the determination of the scholarship winners. The committee consists of John W. Buckley, Vice President for Undergraduate Enrollment at Fordham University, Beverly Fox, Associate Dean of Studies at Sarah Lawrence College, Diane McKoy, Senior Associate Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Columbia University, and Elise M. Rodriguez, Director of College Guidance at The Dalton School. Dr. Momo, the chairperson of the committee, is the Director of College Counseling at Trinity School.

Among this year's 34 winners are several students who were born outside the United States, coming from diverse corners of the world like Nepal, Italy, Ghana, Jamaica and China. In addition, many of the other award recipients have parents who were born outside the U.S., providing further evidence of the value immigrants represent to our country. We should also note that the scholarship program once again provided evidence that hard work is not limited to just one child per family. Five of this year's scholarship recipients are siblings of previous winners, including Owen McKinney, who has two siblings, Maeve and Keira, who are previouswinners.

This year’s scholarship recipients include at least nine students who plan on careers in medicine or related fields. There are future doctors, film makers, environmentalists, forensic scientists, teachers, lawyers, urban planners and financiers included in the group, and together they present great hope for the future.

As we’ve reported so often in the past, the scholarship awards mean more than money for the recipients. Receiving a scholarship helps imbed in students the determination to do well in school and in their adult careers. A study conducted in 2015 bears this out. It not only found that every previous winner surveyed had graduated college or was still in school, it found that a full 90 percent of the previous scholarship winners who responded to the survey were working in the careers they had chosen for themselves as seniors in high school! Indeed, there are professionals in virtually every skill set today who were recipients of our union’s scholarships. And we assure all members that this kind of success was once again on display at the 2019 scholarship awards ceremony.

News of the scholarship awards always draws inquiries about how students may apply. Details, including eligibility requirements and a request form to receive a scholarship application always appear each year in the January edition of this magazine.

Congratulations to this year's 34 scholarship recipients! As we have said before, we firmly believe that the success they have already attained in their young lives is only a preview of the great things to come.