By Bijan White
“It is one thing to tell someone to follow their dreams and a fundamentally different thing to empower them to do so,” said Ramsey Jay, Riordan Fellow (’02) and 2015 recipient of the Riordan Program’s Excellence in Civil Engagement and Leadership Award. The Riordan Programs at Anderson, established in 1987, provide training in leadership to diverse groups of individuals all over the country. Through mentorship, workshops and community service, the program works to guide the leaders of tomorrow.
The annual Riordan Gala celebrated the program’s 28th anniversary, bringing together Riordan Scholars and alumni to honor the program’s commitment to empowering inner-city youth. Hosted at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, the gala entailed a night of musical performances, presentations by members of the program, a silent auction, and an abundance of food and laughter.
“Tonight is about community. The Riordan Program are a beacon of light for all students who strive to attend college and earn their degrees,” said Kimberly Freeman (’02), Anderson’s assistant dean for diversity initiatives and community relations. The sense of community was palpable as alumni from years past crowded the grand ballroom, speaking excitedly over the band. “I am proud to be part of the Anderson family,” said Alex Lawrence (’99), assistant dean of MBA admissions and financial aid and former executive director of the Riordan Programs, “because it is a family. We are there for the good and for the bad.”
Jay, upon receiving his award, acknowledged the importance of mentorship and empowerment. “I say thank you to the Riordan Programs for redefining what I believe to be possible. Thank you for putting a fire inside of me to become what I am today.” Jay is a widely recognized expert on leadership development and a motivational speaker. He launched his career in investment management and created the lecture series 21st-Century Dynamic Alternative Investment Framework & Strategies, and he serves on the board of several organizations. “Leadership is about delivering service, ultimately leaving an indelible footprint so those who come after us may benefit and live well with purpose.”
Campoverdi, recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award, spoke of her work with #EmergingUS as a multimedia platform focused on the intersection of race, immigration and identity in light of the rapidly changing American demographic. A passionate advocate for the Hispanic community, Campoverdi explained that her work is a chapter in the story her mother started when she immigrated to the U.S. “The Riordan Programs illuminated a path that many of us didn’t see or didn’t know existed.”
Bender, Riordan Programs board member and recipient of the Community Champion Award, reflected on his experience with Riordan. Currently a managing director at Goldman, Sachs, Bender reflected on his beginnings as a middle-class boy in public school and the role of the many mentors who inspired and supported him. His advice to his peers and the next generation was to embrace risk: “Fortune favors the bold.”
Padilla, the 2015 Legacy Award Honoree, was sworn in as California Secretary of State this year and spoke of his journey from a humble background to the state government. “In our own ways, we have overcome obstacles and the program has helped us along the way. Tonight, let us honor the program and think on how, too often, we are seen as the exception to the rule. It weighs on me to be the exception, let us try to make it so that this becomes the rule.” Padilla urged his fellow alumni and Riordan Scholars to make use of the program to change the world as they wish to see it changed.
The evening came to a close as old friends, young students, and family members all mingled in the elegant halls of the Biltmore Hotel, sharing stories, laughing socializing at the bar. For all the speeches and formalities, the gala, at its core, represented the strong spirit of community forged by the many years of the programs’ existence, reinforced by the collaboration, enthusiasm and good will shared by the many alumni, students and family members the Riordan Programs have affected.