2019 President’s Dinner and Award Ceremony


Ave Maria University students, parents, faculty, staff, and trustees gathered on the Friday evening prior to the Class of 2019 commencement in the Student Union for the annual President’s Dinner.  Event attendees enjoyed a wonderful meal along with formal addresses from AMU President, Jim Towey and Dr. James Patterson who was nominated by this year’s graduates to close the event.  

President Towey addressed the crowd with highlights from the most recent academic year and finished with an overview of this year’s President’s Award finalists and the winner.  The President’s Award is the highest honor Ave Maria University confers upon a graduate every academic year.  Each of this year’s finalists demonstrated amazing leadership skills, academic and extracurricular achievements, and embodiment of the AMU Catholic ideals and mission. 

There were 26 students nominated by faculty, administration, and fellow student for this year’s award which was not surprising given the outstanding graduating seniors.  The GPA’s of our five finalists range from 3.78 to 3.99 which demonstrates an extremely high level of academic achievement on top on the numerous and diverse extracurricular activities in which each participated. 

In alphabetical order, the first finalist was Stephen Akers, B.A. in Accounting and a former President of the Student Government Association (also a former Treasurer).  In his SGA roles, Stephen streamlined accounting processes, added accountability, and developed a national network of student government leaders. Stephen was on the AMU President’s Council and worked in both Marketing and Career Services this past year.

Stephen has participated in Mother Teresa Project local service work and mission trips. Outside the University, he worked hard to expand his resume with internships including consulting for an NGO in Madrid and working for the London Stock Exchange Group in New York. A fellow student described Stephen as “hard-working, driven, ambitious, efficient, kind, compassionate, bright and loving.” Those attributes are certainly the fruit of his love of the Eucharist, of which he frequently ministers at Mass.

Stephen is now off to Washington, DC to start his career with Gartner, Inc., a global research and advisory group.

The second finalist was Bernadette Hartney a double major in Biochemistry and Health Sciences and a member of the Honors Program and Pre-Med Club. She played four years of intercollegiate soccer and was a team captain. She was a Mother Teresa Scholar who skipped sleep regularly to drive to Miami and help in the Missionaries of Charity soup kitchen, and she spent time in Haiti on a mission trip with classmates.

On campus, Bernadette served on the Student Activities Board and served on the Athletics Advisory Board Executive Committee. She was active in her Talitha Koum household, Bible study, and the Pro-life Club where she marched for life in Washington, D.C. nearly every year. Despite all of the demands on her schedule, she often showed others how to put God first.

Before she starts her career in medicine, Bernadette will spend the upcoming academic year helping Coach Rosser further develop the AMU women’s soccer program.

The third finalist was Brooke Pierron with a near perfect GPA as a Theology major. She was President of the Breakfast Club that took surplus food to farmworker families in nearby Immokalee and volunteered with Habitat for Humanity.

Brooke spent four years at AMU as an intercollegiate athlete, primarily as a star pitcher for softball and captain who won a Coach’s Award. She also played on the women’s basketball team. Those who know her will tell you that Brooke is a team player who doesn’t seek the spotlight. She is the co-founder and co-leader of a campus women’s household; she helped lead bible study for softball players; she served on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee; and she wrote for the Campus Ministry blog promoting the Genuine Feminine Conference.

Brooke’s classmates love her kindness and quick wit, and non-pretentious faith. Her resume shows that for the last four summers she worked as a missionary for the Catholic Youth Summer Camp organization counseling high school students. Brooke is now moving on to work at the Damascus Catholic Mission Campus in Ohio.

The fourth finalist was Mary Rexroat who majored in Biochemistry and minored in Biology. She was also the most recent President of the Student Government Association where she made sure students voices were heard by the administration. 

During her time at AMU, Mary consistently proved her servant leadership abilities. She was a two-term leader of the Mary Magdalene household, a Resident Assistant, a Mother Teresa Scholar, a volunteer driver for local service work, and a regular with Habitat for Humanity. In addition, Mary was one of Ave’s top cross country runners.

Throughout her busy AMU life, Mary demonstrated her fearless faith. As her roommate noted, “From our first weekend here at Ave, Mary was inviting me to Mass, Oremus, and Holy Hour…Her prayer life has inspired me to make mine a priority.” Mary will marry Andrew Nussbaum (’18) this summer and start her career as a Manager of Regulatory Affairs at a medical technology company. She then plans to begin work on a Master’s degree as a Physician’s Assistant.

This year’s last finalist and the 2019 President’s Award winner was James Wesley!  James long list of credentials includes Music Ministry, being a Residence Assistant, leading the men’s household Ardens Virtus, and being both an Alpha team leader and a Mother Teresa Scholar.

James talents have also allowed him to perform on stage in cabarets, one musical, and “Ave’s Got Talent,” and to perform at AMU events in a band with his fellow students.  He was also a JV basketball player for a couple of years.  Most notably, James is a humble, unassuming follower of Jesus, always thinking of others as better than himself.

Through his years at Ave, James’ hard work paid off as he graduated summa cum laude with a Biochemistry degree and will attend the University of Toledo College of Medicine in the fall.  Congratulations James!