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Alumni Awards’ varied recipients include a military officer, CEOs, professors, students

Ricoh Innovation Inc. CEO Nikhil Balram poses with University President Jared Cohon after receiving an Alumni Achievement Award for his work in video-processing algorithms. Balram’s algorithms power televisions, projectors, displays, and disc players. (credit: Thomas Hofman/Photo Editor) Ricoh Innovation Inc. CEO Nikhil Balram poses with University President Jared Cohon after receiving an Alumni Achievement Award for his work in video-processing algorithms. Balram’s algorithms power televisions, projectors, displays, and disc players. (credit: Thomas Hofman/Photo Editor) Credit: Thomas Hofman/Photo Editor Credit: Thomas Hofman/Photo Editor

As the temperatures dropped and the sun set, alumni, faculty, and current students donned formal attire for the annual Alumni Awards ceremony.

In his opening remarks, University President Jared Cohon said that the Alumni Awards have “grown to be a highlight of the year for the university.”

Rangos Hall was transformed into an awards venue, illuminated with colored spotlights and lighted podiums. The podiums on stage were bookended by two Jumbotron-style screens displaying video of the events at hand.

The first 30 minutes of the program were devoted to allowing guests and attendees mingle and chat about their respective experiences at Carnegie Mellon.

A jazz ensemble from the music department, coupled with lighting provided by the drama department, created an ambience that led many, such as visiting parent Barbara Hois, to be “impressed with its elegance.”

At 5:30 p.m., the lights dimmed and this year’s honorees were escorted into the ballroom by a bagpiper, signaling the ceremony’s beginning.

After a video highlighting some of Carnegie Mellon’s notable alumni, the stage lights were raised for opening remarks by Andrew Shaindlin, the associate vice president for Alumni Relations and Annual Giving. MC Beverly Wheeler then took the stage to introduce Cohon and the awards themselves.

Founded in 1950, the Alumni Awards were created to acknowledge “exceptional Carnegie Mellon alumni and students for their contributions to the university, their communities, and their professions,” Cohon said in his opening remarks.

Initially, the program only contained Alumni Service and “Achievement” categories, but it has since added the “Distinguished” categories starting in the 1960s, Student Service recognition in 1992, the Recent Alumni Award in 2002, and — most recently — the Faculty Service Award in 2006.

As Shaindlin explained via email, the Alumni Awards ceremonies were once private only to the honorees, invited guests, nominators, and administrative officials. However, the presentation was later reworked as an open ceremony with a private reception, and the event became completely public in 2008.

The first award presented was the Student Service Award, given to current Carnegie Mellon students engaged in giving back to the campus and to the community.

Recipients of this award were Suraj Baxi, a senior social and decision sciences major; Maricel Paz, a senior psychology major; and Erica Spiritos, a senior civil and environmental engineering major who is spending the semester in Israel and who presented her acceptance speech via pre-recorded video.

Two Recent Alumni Awards were given to individuals who attained “exceptional achievement” within 10 years of their Carnegie Mellon graduation. The recipients of this award were Elizabeth Higgins Durika (E ’03) and Keith Eich (E ’02).

Durika, a Navy lieutenant who attended the university on an ROTC scholarship, recalled Carnegie Mellon as “the best-fit school for me.” She also commented on the elegance of the ceremony, referring to it as “a class act.”

Nikhil Balram (E ’86, ’88, ’92), Daniel Fawcett (TPR ’88), Paul Jacob III (A ’71), Rajeev Mehta (TPR ’92), and Neil Spisak (A ’78) won the Alumni Achievement Awards for leadership and innovations in their respective fields.

Next were the Alumni Service awards, given to Teresa Allison (HNZ ’99), Myron Lewis (S ’54), Timothy Liu (HS ’85), and Christine Hayes Nolin (S ’85) for their service and commitment to Carnegie Mellon and related alumni programs after graduation.

The final awards presented Friday evening were the Alumni Distinguished Achievement Awards, given to three-time Grammy-winning French horn virtuoso and conductor Dale Clevenger (A ’62) and medical researcher Hillard M. Lazarus (E ’70), who performed the world’s first adult stem cell transplant.

Upon accepting the award, Lazarus complimented the “wonderful culture and contributions” of the university, while Clevenger shared the emotional experience he had upon re-entering the College of Fine Arts building the morning prior.

Cohon drew the ceremony to a close, and the attendees headed to a reception in CFA’s Great Hall. In his closing speech, Cohon reflected on the ceremony and called the Alumni Awards “a powerful reminder of what this university is about.”