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SLU-Madrid First Ever Zoom Awards Ceremony and Toast to the Class of 2020

by Katie Gortz on 05/18/2020

On the eve of SLU-Madrid's commencement ceremony each year, Paul Vita, Ph.D., SLU-Madrid director and academic dean, holds a reception for students, their families, faculty and staff to honor outstanding achievement. Though the Class of 2020's commencement ceremony has been postponed, the SLU-Madrid community connected online from across the globe for its first Zoom Awards Ceremony and Toast to the Class of 2020. The event also streamed live on Youtube

Paloma Gómez de Salazar, counselor and campus minister, and Carlos Villar Moreu, student life programs assistant, served as masters of ceremony, introducing Vita as well as SLU President Fred Pestello, Ph.D and Interim Provost Chet Gillis, Ph.D., who “zoomed” in from St. Louis to congratulate the honorees and join the toast to the Class of 2020.

Zoom Awards

More than 150 members of the Billikeño family – graduates and their families, alumni, staff, faculty and friends – connected for the first ever Zoom Awards Ceremony. A SLU-Madrid tradition, the ceremony recognizes students, faculty and staff for outstanding academics, leadership, service and contributions to the SLU-Madrid community. The ceremony concluded with a toast to the Class of 2020. 

Remarks From University Leaders

After campus chaplain Fr. James O’Leary offered a prayer written by St. Ignatius as a benediction, participants were asked to take part in a short poll which identified that more than 150 participants had “zoomed” in from across Europe, North America, South America, Africa and Asia. 

At this time last year, President Pestello and his wife Fran Pestello, Ph.D., were in Madrid celebrating the Annual Awards Ceremony and Class of 2019 commencement ceremony at the Reina Sofia Museum.

“While every trip to SLU-Madrid is special, that one was particularly so,” President Pestello said. “We remember with genuine affection… the support you provide each other… how much you care for each other. You are indeed a special SLU community, one that lives our mission, one that delivers high-quality, personalized education in an environment that is academically rigorous under the leadership of Dean Vita and his administrative team.”

Special Awards and Recognition

Interim Provost Gillis offered words of praise to the Award Ceremony honorees and he reminded the Class of 2020 that studying at SLU-Madrid is a privilege, and with privilege comes responsibility, the responsibility to be men and women for others and make the world a better place.

Vita then recognized the students who earned distinction for their cumulative GPA:

Cum Laude (3.5 or higher)

Magna Cum Laude (3.7 or higher)

Summa Cum Laude (3.9 or higher)

Mary Conley, Alec Tardy and Laura Moyneur also received recognition for having completed the University’s rigorous honors program. This distinction, beyond cum laude, signifies the completion of a series of special projects, special seminars and an honors senior thesis.

This year’s Student Government Association Recognition Awards, presented by SGA President Sierra Zima, went to three outstanding members of the SLU-Madrid community: Marta Moreno, Ph.D. (Business and Economics), Joshua Guyer, Ph.D. (Psychology) and César Rocha (Unity by Sodexo).

Director of Student Life Marta Maruri and Sports Director César Rioja announced the Student Life Awards for outstanding contributions to the campus community. Each honoree acknowledged their award by responding, “People for others.”

Servant Leadership Award

Sierra Zima

Social Justice Award

Human Rights Club

Faculty Commitment to Experiential Learning Award

Eduardo Fernández-Cruz, Ph.D. – Professor of Psychology 

Faculty Commitment to Service Learning Award

Melanie Mitchell – Professor of Theology 

Outstanding Faculty Advisor Award

Daniel Chornet, Ph.D. – Program Director of Communication

Outstanding Staff Advisor Award

Victoria Villarreal – Director of Finance and Operations 

Most Constant in Activities Organization Award


New Student Leader Award

Britney Saras

Community Building Award

Katie Gortz – Digital Marketing Strategist

Most Innovative Student Group


Most Engaging and Active Cultural Exchange Organization


Campus Ministry Student Leader Award

Luca Zocche

Sports Dedication Award

David Aldeano, Soccer Team Coach

Special 2020 Student Life Award

SLU-Madrid Model United Nations

 Director of Admissions Heidi Buffington announced the two recipients of this year’s Senior Standout Admissions Appreciation Award: Laura Moyneur, who has shown willingness to volunteer for anything and everything, and Alec Tardy, who, in addition to appearing in numerous promotional materials, has also earned himself the distinction of “label master.”

The ceremony continued as academic departments across campus recognized outstanding students in their respective fields:

Art History Award for Academic Excellence

Lucy Hauser

Business Excellence Awards

Top Communication Student Award

Teresa Brage Tauler

Manresa Award for Academic Writing in English (Tie for first prize)

First History Major Essay Award

Lydia Brandt: “Spanish Nationalist and Liturgy”

Political Science/International Relations Awards

Academic Excellence in Psychology Award

Carla Aparicio Gallardo 

Excellence in Mechanical Engineering Award

Merjen Palvanova

Excellence in Biomedical Engineering Award

María Magdalena Pereira López

Spanish Awards

X Concurso de Escritura Creativa Ignacio de Loyola

Vita took the stage once again to announce two special, university-wide awards. Mary Prendergast, Ph.D. (Chair of the Division of Humanities) was selected for an honorable mention scholarly works award for the publication of her ground-breaking archaeological research in Science last year. Secondly, the Madrid Campus received special recognition for the prolific scholarly works of Madrid faculty published in English and Spanish spanning a wide range of disciplines. These two honors were acknowledged at the Grant Winner and Scholarly Works Reception on Friday, March 6, 2020 in St. Louis. 

Toasting the Class of 2020

Assistant Dean Jaime Ortiz then went on to recognize each member of the Class of 2020 individually before Vita brought the celebration to a close with a toast to the Class of 2020:

“You earned your degrees at SLU-Madrid. You completed them during the Spring of 2020. These two facts mean that you have a profound understanding of how the world is interconnected, how individual and community actions have global impact. Many joys await you: many challenges do, too. Please know that the faculty and staff of SLU-Madrid will do our best to support you as you pursue your careers—heartened that you will be the kind of leaders who epitomize the University’s mission—that is, to care passionately about social justice and to make the world a better place. Here’s to the future success, health and happiness of SLU-Madrid’s Class of 2020!” 

Save the Date

While the Zoom Awards Ceremony honored outstanding achievement and offered recognition of the Class of 2020, SLU-Madrid looks forward to celebrating a traditional Commencement Ceremony for the Class of 2020 at the Reina Sofia Museum on November 21, 2020. All May, summer and December 2020 graduates are invited to take part in the ceremony.