CORAL GABLES, Fla. (April 29, 2014)—College once seemed like an impossible dream for Victoria Humphrey. Now, the Ronald A. Hammond Scholar is not only on the verge of graduating debt-free from a top-tier institution; she’s on her way to medical school—and fulfilling a lifelong ambition of becoming a doctor.
Addressing an audience of more than 430 donors during the UM Annual Giving’s Leadership and Loyalty Recognition Reception on April 29, Humphrey vowed to be forever grateful to the U and a Hurricane for life.
Seated on the other side of that promise was Christian Diez, B.S. ’00, M.D. ’04, M.B.A. ’12. He and his wife, Jennifer Geer-Diez, A.B. ’01, M.P.A. ’02, were in the audience the evening of April 29, along with many other members of two critical Annual Giving societies: the James W. McLamore Society and the Loyalty Society.
Eighteen years ago, it was Diez who wondered if he could afford to attend a school like the University of Miami. His father worked for a Burger King and money was tight.
But when he was accepted to UM on a Henry King Stanford Scholarship, which covered half of his tuition, his mother assured him they would somehow find a way to cover the rest.
Then a Howard Hughes Scholarship from the biology department came through, covering the remainder of the cost and then some. Diez excelled at UM. He even met his wife-to-be in a political science class before going on to the Miller School of Medicine. Today, he is not only a donor, a doctor, and a triple UM alumnus; he is an employee and faculty member too.
An assistant professor of clinical anesthesiology, associate director of the Residency Program, and director of Medical Student Clerkship for the Miller School, Diez works for UHealth as an anesthesiologist in the Ryder Trauma Center.
He proposed to his wife outside of the Memorial Building, where they met, and today they have three young daughters—Grace, 5, Juliet, 3, and Abigail, 9 months—who almost certainly will consider attending the U someday.
Last Tuesday night, Diez, a member of both the McLamore Society and the Loyalty Society, was interested to learn that UM was honoring James W. McLamore, the late Burger King co-founder who gave generously and enthusiastically of his leadership, time, and funds to the U. “My dad started working for Burger King in 1971,” Diez remarked. “We definitely came full circle.”
Formerly known as the President’s Circle, the giving group recognizing annual leadership gifts of $1,000 or more to the U, was renamed in 2013 to honor the legacy of McLamore, UM Board of Trustees chair from 1980 to 1990. Dedicated to promoting education in the community, he helped UM President Emeritus Edward T. Foote lead a historic $517.5 million fundraising campaign.
“Jim was a giant in this community,” said UM President Donna E. Shalala. “As co-founder of Burger King Corporation and a dedicated civic leader, he helped shape the future of our community. Jim and Nancy’s personal giving was equally inspiring. Over a 30-year period, the McLamores’ philanthropy touched nearly every corner of the University. One of my favorite spots on campus is the McLamore Plaza, where students study for finals in hammocks underneath rows of majestic Royal Palms.”
McLamore, who died in 1996, made an appearance at the event in the form of a video that shared scenes related to his devotion to the U. Called to the podium following the montage, McLamore’s son, Sterling “Whit” McLamore, admitted he hadn’t expected to speak right after seeing such a moving tribute. “I really enjoyed that,” he said with emotion. “I know my dad would be incredibly honored.” A bouquet of roses was presented to his mother, Nancy McLamore, who came to support the University’s tribute to her late husband of 49 years.
Also of note in attendance were President Emeritus Foote and Roberta “Bosey” Foote, as well as UM Executive Vice President and Provost Thomas J. LeBlanc and Deans Leonidas Bachas, Brian Blake, Charles Eckman, Denis Hector, and James Tien.
The program’s entertainment included a performance by a quartet of singers from the theatre arts program at the College of Arts and Sciences and a jazz trio featuring Frost School of Music students.
The night was about impact—and about the kind of committed generosity it takes to make that impact possible. Sergio M. Gonzalez, senior vice president for University Advancement and External Affairs, announced that, as of that day, UM had surpassed the $1.3 billion mark for Momentum2: The Breakthrough Campaign for the University of Miami, quickly adding that there’s another $296 million to raise in 2.5 years. He emphasized that donations of all sizes and from all constituents, alumni and non-alumni alike, are critical. He highlighted the devotion of the UM Citizens Board, community leaders who have raised more than $388 million for the University since their group’s founding in 1946.
President Shalala said that because UM will never boast the kind of endowment of a place like Harvard, the U’s true endowment is represented by the steadfast donations that come in year after year from individuals like the nearly 10,000 members of the Loyalty and James W. McLamore societies.
She pointed to model ’Canes Myrna, B.B.A. ’56, and Sheldon Palley, B.B.A. ’56, J.D. ’57, 47-year loyal supporters of the University, as well as a number of other couples who have been donating to the U for at least 45 years.
“We’ve made an effort to keep tuition and debt down for students,” Shalala said, noting that UM also offers free shuttles, tickets and transportation to athletic events, and other complimentary services and opportunities to help keep students on equal footing once they’re enrolled at the U.
“Our students are not only culturally diverse,” she explained. “They’re socioeconomically diverse. Many are the first in their families to attend a private university.”
That kind of inclusiveness and diversity, Shalala explained, is why UM holds three Commencement ceremonies instead of one. She then relayed the story of a student who told her he’d been fretting about how many tickets he’d be allowed for Commencement guests and how relieved he was to learn he could have as many as he needed. Every month for the past four years, he explained to her, 14 members of his family had gotten together to pool their funds to make sure his tuition at UM was covered, so he couldn’t see leaving any of those relatives out of the celebration. When Shalala asked how many relatives he’d be bringing to Commencement, the young man replied, “30.” With humor, Shalala shot back, “Well, make sure those other 16 get together to pay for your graduate school!”
Another scholarship recipient who spoke during the program was 2 years old when her parents put her and her sister in a boat and set off with them to escape the famine and political oppression they’d experienced in Cuba. The scholarship that Alicia Barroso earned 15 years later to attend the University of Miami had her announcing Tuesday evening that she’d soon be graduating summa cum laude with a double major in finance and accounting—and facing the daunting task of apartment hunting in New York City. The reason? Following graduation, Barroso will begin a full-time job in investment banking with JPMorgan Chase.
“Your kindness inspired me to work relentlessly at the U and make something of everything that was given to me,” said Barroso. ”I hope I made my school proud, I hope I made my parents proud, and I hope I made you proud.” Her words and accomplishments must have assured the evening’s attendees that their investment in her future, and that of so many other students like her, is already paying powerful dividends.