With the summer fast approaching, the RCPD reflects on a year of growing community relationships, applauding outstanding students and staff and expanding programming opportunities. This month the RCPD celebrated their 40th anniversary at the annual Awards and Appreciation Reception.
The Reception on April 13 gathered 200 students, parents, alumni, faculty, RCPD donors and friends of MSU at The Spartan Club in Spartan Stadium for an afternoon of recognizing accomplishments, achieved with hard work, creativity and meaningful partnerships.
RCPD Director Michael Hudson opened the reception with the theme: Anchored in History, Poised for the Future. Hudson reflected on the historical roots of the RCPD, beginning with service of early Tower Guard members reading to students who were blind in the 1930s. He then honored the bold leadership of founding Director Judy K. Gentile as she led efforts when MSU officially opened the Office of Programs for Handicapper Students during the 1971-1972 academic year.
Hudson acknowledged MSU's commitment to facilitating success and equal opportunity for students and staff with disabilities before these services were federally mandated. He added that though the RCPD has a new name, offers updated services and continues to pursue the latest technology, the passion for providing a full campus experience to all Spartans is a longstanding tradition, reflecting the original character of the office 40 years ago.
Keynote speaker Richard Bernstein, J.D. continued the reception with a message of empowerment and positive self-awareness. Bernstein works on issues ranging from improving accessibility in stadiums and public transportation, to expanding employment options for individuals with disabilities.
Richard Bernstein, J.D. gives his keynote address
Bernstein encouraged the audience with stories of triumph over challenges in his life as an accomplished attorney, marathon runner and triathlon competitor who happens to be blind. He emphasized the importance of perseverance and shared that everyone faces challenges, but the gratification of the finish line is worth the pain of the race.
Perseverance and success were recognized in many individuals as the RCPD distributed 35 awards, including 24 scholarships, totaling $69,000. This figure represents a 15% growth in awarded funds since last year, made possible through the commitments of many generous donors.
"We are so grateful to our donors and partners as they help the RCPD maintain status as a national leader in higher education disability resource offices," Michael Hudson said.
The reception offers a unique opportunity for donors to interact with the students they support as accomplishments and milestones from the year are celebrated and scholarship winners announced. Most of the endowment founders were in attendance: Richard and Kathleen Carlson, founders of the Carlson Accessible Media Program (CAMP), and Dr. Thomas and Ellen Maleck, founders the Emerging Opportunities Endowment, just to name a few.
Friends of the RCPD value the signature programs and opportunities created with their endowments so highly that many traveled from out-of-state to participate in the reception. MaryBeth Decker-Trunk, co-founder of the Decker-Muns Friendship Memorial Scholarship, came in from South Carolina to present scholarships to four graduate students with disabilities. David and Sara Tagget traveled from Maryland to present a fellowship, which memorializes their daughter Katrina Tagget, a Spartan who was dedicated to scholarship and community service in her short life.
Each scholarship and award recipient has a chance to address the audience about their experience with the RCPD, MSU, disability, overcoming challenges, gratitude to donors, or share whatever they see fit.
Special Education Sophomore Julia Ruggirello earned both the Anita Giampalmi Scholarship and the Samaritan Scholar Award. She beamed with gratitude and confidence in her moving acceptance speech about life with Cystic Fibrosis.
"As of today, the current life expectancy is 37 years old. However I don't live my life being another statistic," Ruggirello said.
"I live my life to the fullest, waking up each morning extremely grateful to be alive."
Julia Ruggirello accepts the Samaritan Scholar Award from Judy DeLapa
Part of living life to the fullest for Ruggirello is extensive community service work. As a spokesperson for The Cystic Fibrosis foundation, she raises funds and awareness to pursue a cure. As President of MSU's service organization, Community Action and Response Experience, she dedicates much of her time to working with at risk school children. Julia is a positive role model for all students, and the RCPD is excited to recognize her many accomplishments.
Beyond scholarships, the RCPD also recognized acts of community service and exceptional ability. Tower Guard received the Outstanding Volunteer Organization Award for contributions totaling over 6000 hours of service this academic year alone. Tower Guard President Kent Dell accepted the award on behalf of the group of 70 sophomores and was recognized individually by the office for his exceptional and active leadership. He also serves as president of the MSU chapter of Student Veterans of America and received a standing ovation from the crowd for his military service.
The Annual Awards and Appreciation Reception celebrated and recognized ability and accomplishments, maximized through relationships between donors, the RCPD and MSU students and faculty. The speeches were empowering and the recipients are admirable. The afternoon was a joy for all who attended and just a sampling of success to be enjoyed in the future as these amazing Spartans remember their Go Green, Go White roots and Go Forth with empowered identities and unlimited potential.