Putting Hope on the Table

“Hope is the only thing that is stronger than fear.”

These were the stirring words of May Abou Ghazaleh, whose dramatic personal story riveted an audience of scholarship donors and fellow students at the annual Celebration of Scholarships Dinner on March 17. An architect in her native Syria, Ms. Abou Ghazaleh fled her home country last year amidst the civil war there to protect her two daughters and herself from the growing conflict. Thanks to generous scholarship support from EagleBank, she was able to enroll at George Mason University as a master’s student studying real estate development and administration. Once her degree is in hand, May is determined to one day return to Syria and help rebuild the infrastructure of her homeland. Countering the fear that has been spread by that unrelenting conflict, May concluded, “the scholarship that I was granted from EagleBank is all about hope.”

While few Mason students have surmounted as challenging a path as May’s, this courageous young woman is just one of more than 200 Mason students being helped by the scholarship funds that generous Mason supporters donate each year. Large or small, every dollar helps a deserving student find the opportunity to achieve his or her dreams. The annual scholarship dinner is one of the most joyful events of the year, providing a chance for donors to meet the students who have benefited from their generosity and to receive their thanks in person.

Communications professor Peter Pober, who directs the university’s nationally-ranked forensics team, served as the emcee for the evening, bringing his singular energy to the stage. Forensics team members Emily Bleker and Samuel Abny read aloud letters from student scholarship recipients thanking their donors in the audience, whose generosity helped the students to reach their goals.

Scholarship donor Elena Prien shared the story of personal loss and redemption that inspired her generous philanthropy to scholarships at Mason. Elena’s courageous journey to overcome the depression that followed the tragic loss of her son led to her gift creating the Elena Scholarships in Honor of Her Children Endowment. Established in 2014, Elena’s scholarships have already helped six Mason students pursue their dreams in higher education.

University president Ángel Cabrera crystallized the meaning of the evening in his closing remarks. Reflecting upon the room full of donors and students alike, Cabrera said, “What is happening in this room today, this is a genuinely American thing […] The rest of the world is not like this, believe me. A scholarship says someone cares about you succeeding; someone is willing to bet on you. It is the ultimate gift that keeps on giving.”

—Chelsea McDow / March 24, 2016