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Sharmaine Wilcox, center, was announced as the new student trustee during the 31st annual Leadership Awards Gala. Wilcox will serve a two-year term on the Ohio University Board of Trustees.

Photographer: Elizabeth Held

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Ohio University President Roderick J. McDavis and First Lady Deborah McDavis socialize with student trustee Keith Wilbur during this year’s Leadership Awards Gala.

Photographer: Elizabeth Held

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Sarrita Cunningham, the mother of Amanda J. Cunningham, an Ohio University student leader who passed away in 2003, speaks during this year’s Leadership Awards Gala.

Photographer: Elizabeth Held

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Outstanding student leadership applauded at annual awards gala

Sharmaine Wilcox named new student trustee

In an annual celebration of Ohio University students and their outstanding demonstration of the University’s core values, more than 40 students and student organizations were honored at the 31st Annual Leadership Awards Gala.

University dignitaries, administrators, faculty, staff, students and their families packed the Baker University Center Ballroom for the event, held Wednesday, April 2.

An Ohio University tradition dating back to 1983, the Leadership Awards Gala is sponsored by the Division of Student Affairs in collaboration with the Career and Leadership Development Center. Additional sponsors included Ohio Realty, Amstar Group, Beta Theta Pi Fraternity, the Ohio University Credit Union and University Medical Associates.

“For 31 years, we have come together on a night like this to celebrate you,” Ohio University President Roderick J. McDavis said in addressing the students nominated for the more than a dozen leadership awards and scholarships presented at the event. “We have changed as a university because of you and your ideas.”

Vice President for Student Affairs Ryan Lombardi kicked off the evening, describing it as his “favorite night of the year.”

“Tonight we are reminded that leadership is not just about a role. It’s about people, and it’s about a transformation that begins when a student steps on campus their first year and their growth during their time here at Ohio University,” Lombardi said. “We are proud of the transformative nature of Ohio University, and tonight we celebrate those who – in the process of their journey – have taken the time to serve others as well.”

The evening’s celebration include two videos produced by University Communications and Marketing in partnership with the Division of Student Affairs. The first video placed the spotlight on student leadership at Ohio University through interviews with undergraduate and graduate students throughout the campus who talked about what it means to be a leader and their leadership experiences at OHIO.

The other video resulted in what event organizers described as one of the most-touching moments of the night as the University remembered and honored the legacy of Amanda J. Cunningham.

2013 marked the 10th anniversary since Cunningham, an outstanding student leader on the Athens Campus, passed away. She was involved in many organization and activities at OHIO, including serving as president of the Senior Class Council, co-chair of the Bicentennial Campaign’s Student Campaign Committee, and a member of Student Senate, Kappa Phi and the University Planning and Advisory Council. The video shown at Wednesday’s event featured an interview with Cunningham when she was a student at OHIO. In it, she talks about the leadership opportunities she had the opportunity to participate in thanks to the University.

In 2004, the Ohio University Board of Trustees approved the naming of the University’s leadership center after Cunningham.

“A decade has passed, and we are still feeling her impact,” Lombardi said in the video tribute.

In attendance at Wednesday’s celebration were Cunningham’s mother, Sarrita Cunningham, and other members of her family.

“The biggest fear of a grieving parent is that their child won’t be remembered,” Sarrita Cunningham said.

“But we know that Amanda will be remembered long after we are all gone,” she said, noting that her daughter – through the Amanda J. Cunningham Leadership Center – will always be a part of OHIO history.

The evening ended with one of the most-anticipated announcements of the night – the naming of the University’s new student trustee, who will serve a two-year term on OHIO’s Board of Trustees.

McDavis announced that Gov. John Kasich has selected sophomore Sharmaine Wilcox to replace graduating senior Amanda Roden as one of Board of Trustees’ two student trustees. The three other candidates for the position were Jordan Kelley, Ben Mathes and Joshelyn Smith.

Leadership Awards and Scholarship Winners

The following awards and scholarships were presented at the 31st annual Leadership Awards Gala:

Charles J. Ping International Student Leadership Award – Omar Kurdi (undergraduate) and Nihal Said (graduate)

Stonewall Leadership Award – Jesper Beckholt

Women’s Issues Leadership Award – Tiarra Comer

Blackburn-Spencer Achievement Awards – Amber Alexander, Benjamin Braddock, Deneisha Franklin, Zainab Kandeh and Joshelyn Smith

Blackburn-Spencer Scholarship Awards – Abby Hill, Nasra Mohamed and Valerie Terrell

Latino Heritage Achievement Award – Celina Flores, Gabriela Clarke and Jolana Watson

Francine Childs Diversity Leadership Award ¬– Seaira Christian-Daniels

Edwin L. Kennedy Leadership Award for Outstanding Community Service (Student) – Claire Hall

Edwin L. Kennedy Leadership Award for Community Service (Organization) – Alpha Phi Omega Community Service Fraternity

Outstanding Programming Awards – Holocaust Remembrance by the Black Student Cultural Programming Board (spring semester 2013); Immersion Day by the French Club (fall semester 2013); Black Girls Rock by the Black Student Union (spring semester 2014); and Stoplight Party by Power Gamma (Outstanding Late Night Programming)

Pepsi Ohio University Campus Leadership Scholarships – Andrew Mlynarski, Brian Vadakin, Brittany Cumberland, Gabriela Clarke, Kaija Nealon, Melaina Lewis, Phoenix Crane, Sarah Welch, Sharaqaua Smith, Tiarra Comer, Tyler Daniels and Zainab Kandeh

Kerrigan Family Scholarship Award – Joe Emering

The Rudy Award for Outstanding Student Leadership – Zainab Kandeh

Outstanding Graduate Student Awards – Javad Anjum (doctoral) and Patricia Riley (master’s)

Outstanding Senior Leaders – Annabelle Morton, Claire Bens, Jackson Lavelle, Mary Kate Gallagher, Paige Elmlinger, Ryan Vollrath and Tessa S. Scott

John Newton Templeton Outstanding Senior Leader – Seaira Christian-Daniels