Each year during the Newman University commencement ceremony, one graduating male and one graduating female are selected from a pool of nominees to receive the most prestigious undergraduate award the university offers: the Ablah Awards.
English and theater graduate Austin Schwartz was awarded with the prestigious Harvey J. Ablah Award during the 2023 Newman University commencement ceremony May 12.
About the Newman University Ablah Awards
Harvey J. Ablah exemplified the spirit of the American dream. Supported by his wife, Leona, Harvey became a successful entrepreneur, pioneering the fast food chain concept and leading the family hotel supply business.
To honor Harvey, and to perpetuate his vision of entrepreneurship, his daughter Geri, along with her husband, Fran Jabara, established the Harvey J. Ablah Award at Newman in 1994. In 1996, they added the Leona J. Ablah Award to provide recognition for one outstanding female and one outstanding male graduate. The Ablah Award includes a monetary stipend and is presented to two graduating seniors who have a minimum grade point average of 3.0, who exemplify the mission and spirit of Newman University, and who show promise to make a strong, positive contribution to society.
A surreal experience for Schwartz
For Schwartz, the Ablah Award is a token of honor.
“I had to double-check and look around to make sure it was me,” Schwartz said of hearing his name called as the winner. “My heart started beating really quick just out of surprise.”
Admittedly, Schwartz said he started at Newman “trying to get my degree and accomplish my own goal.” After working alongside so many talented and hardworking classmates, that goal shifted.
“I wanted to make sure that all of my peers around me could thrive at this university,” he said. “To get this recognition as an Ablah Award winner makes me feel like I have succeeded in doing that.”
Vice President of Academic Affairs Alden Stout described Schwartz as someone who “embraces the spirit of a liberal arts education.”
Schwartz graduated cum laude and participated in both the Newman Honors program and the Pi Gamma Mu honors society. He acted or directed in 19 Newman theater productions, published 11 journal articles, helped host the biggest student-led event, the Cultural Extravaganza, and was a member of the Newman chorale.
Not only was Schwartz Newman’s 2023 homecoming king, but also the recipient of the Burbage Award, which signifies leadership and service within the theater department on and off the stage.
As one nominator noted, “Austin has a commitment to service, he has a passion for the activities in which he is involved and he will make a transforming difference in the lives of those who will be part of his future journey.”
Schwartz said he was grateful for the recognition of the extra time and effort he put into the Newman theater department.
“I want to pursue creativity in any and all forms and tell stories that resonate with people, so I’m glad I accomplished that during my time at Newman,” Schwartz said.
To current students, Schwartz suggests getting involved with as many programs, different perspectives and outlets as possible at Newman.
“Try to branch out and not just stick to a single degree path,” Schwartz said. “Take advantage of every opportunity that comes, and be sure to thank and work with your professors in the respective fields closely. They want nothing but your success.”
A few of the Newman professors who made an impact on Schwartz include director of music Deanne Zogleman, associate professor and director of theater Mark Mannette, assistant professor of theology Matthew Umbarger, associate professors of English Susan Crane-Laracuente and Marguerite Regan, and professor of English Bryan Dietrich.
As far as post-graduation careers go, the world is Schwartz’s oyster.
“I love writing of any kind and I’d love to get a novel out eventually,” he said. “I’d also love to be a teacher to older kids because that’s the point when you can really help someone figure out what their calling in life is and help them pursue it.
“But we’ll leave that up to fate,” he added.
Discover what’s possible at Newman University
Founded in 1933, Newman University is grounded in Catholic values and traditions, yet is respectful of all faith traditions. At Newman you’ll find people, programs, organizations and activities designed to educate your mind and inspire your spirit.