The 2020 Ablah Award winners were announced during the virtual commencement ceremony held on May 8, 2020.
Jose Rojas-Montero was awarded the Harvey J. Ablah Award and Courtney Klaus the Leona J. Ablah Award.
The Ablah Awards, established by Fran and Geri (Ablah) Jabara, honor the memory of Geri’s parents, Harvey J. and Leona J. Ablah, and perpetuate their vision of entrepreneurialism and the American dream.
Award recipients must have completed at least 62 credit hours at Newman University and graduate with a grade point average of 3.2 or higher. Each student receives a $2,500 award.
This award is kept a surprise until its announcement during the graduation ceremony.
Rojas-Montero’s family from Venezuela was able to watch the commencement ceremony with him while chatting using Zoom. Though he knew he had been nominated for the Ablah Award, he said he was shocked to hear his name called.
“It took me a minute to register that I won and then all I could hear was my family celebrating from Zoom. I started crying right after that, it’s such an honor. I was so happy and grateful to be nominated among amazing people, but this really made that graduation day special for me and my family,” he said.
Rojas-Montero obtained his Bachelor of Science in Nursing while at Newman. Though he had planned for his extended family to be able to gather in person for the eventful day, he still enjoyed sharing such a special moment with them through technology.
Provost Kim Long, Ph.D., announced the award winners and said, “Jose is an outstanding student who personifies the spirit of Newman University.”
One of Rojas-Montero’s nominators wrote, “Jose’s academic performance, campus involvement and compassion in supporting others on campus makes him an ideal candidate to receive the Ablah Award; recognizing his leadership, service and scholarship.”
Rojas-Montero worked as a tutor, lab assistant, community leader, on and off campus, and he also frequented the Dean’s List. His work with diversity and leadership organizations on campus was extensive, serving as a chair or officer for many organizations throughout his four years on campus.
Long said, “Newman University is not alone in believing in the quality of Jose Rojas-Montero. Following graduation, he has already been offered a nursing position in the pediatric unit of Wesley Medical Hospital.”
He said he is thankful for his time at Newman University where opportunities to get involved, take on leadership roles and make lifelong friends were plentiful.
“Newman really gave so much more than what I expected to get coming here,” he said. “Academically, I was challenged to take as much knowledge as possible from all my classes. As far as student life, that was the biggest and best surprise Newman gave me.”
Coming from Venezuela, Rojas-Montero had a very different concept of a university but said he felt lucky to have friends and mentors who encouraged him to go to club meetings during his first semester.
Through his involvement in clubs and organizations, as well as all the leadership roles he took on, he found a love for advocacy and service but said the best part of it all was experiencing it with his friends.
“I’m incredibly lucky to have found a group of people that inspired me with their passion. Every board meeting and event was filled with laughter and fun,” he said.
Rojas-Montero is currently preparing to take the National Council Licensure Examination and upon passing will start orientation at Wesley Children’s Hospital as a pediatric nurse.
“Working in pediatrics has been a lifelong dream of mine and I’m extremely excited. Eventually, I hope to begin volunteering again and start engaging with the community and other ways than the hospital,” he said. “There’s so much work to be done out there and I hope to do my part.”
Rojas-Montero is grateful for faculty members who went above and beyond to provide him and his classmates with the knowledge and skills to succeed in the nursing field.
“We have this joke in nursing school that every semester we add knowledge to our ‘backpack,’ and I’m very grateful that our professors gave us so many valuable lessons to carry into our future. I’ll confidently bring my ‘backpack’ to work in June, ready to begin my career,” he said.
Rojas-Montero concluded, “I’d just like to thank everyone at Newman for the most amazing four years. I will never get tired of saying how happy I am that I found Newman all the way from Venezuela because it has prepared me for the next chapter of my life. I’m blessed to have known the faculty, staff and my incredible classmates. Lastly, I’m beyond excited and grateful to be receiving this award,” he said.
Watch the video HERE.