By Sheri Webber
“There is a revolution going on at Jacksonville University,” said Melanie Cost Young, “and you are the avant-garde.”
The ASPIRE Campaign Celebration on September 25 honoring leadership donors and volunteers featured students from across the University and project collaborations that brought together investors, parents, board members, alumni, community leaders and members of the JU Family in attendance. Cost Young, daughter of President Tim Cost ’81 and First Lady Stephanie Cost emceed the event offering a warm, energetic and family perspective of the University’s dramatic progress made possible by philanthropy.
“Every aspect of our University has been transformed by your generosity,” she said, addressing a room full of notables from the University’s past and present. From beloved Chancellor Emerita Dr. Frances Bartlett Kinne and the legendary Artis Gilmore ’71 to Marty ’81 and Cindy Chomiak ’83, Bob ’80 and Jan Maisch ’82, Andrus Healy ’98, Matt Kane ’01, former Speaker of the Florida House Will Weatherford ’02, and Trustee J.F. Bryan, to name only a few.
Many of Northeast Florida’s top companies and organizations also joined the celebration, including Acosta, Inc. CSX, Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, Mercedes Benz, YMCA of Florida’s First Coast, Haskell, MCC Sports, Inc., Black Knight Financial Services, and the law firm Driver, McAfee, Hawthorne and Diebenow.
Words Alone Cannot Express
Preston Haskell, Founder of Haskell and a friend and patron of the University, appeared in a video premiered at the event. “I’m delighted that our company has participated in campus growth and expansion,” he said. “But those buildings are merely envelopes for what takes place inside.”
A token of appreciation for those who invested through ASPIRE, the video was introduced by Cost Young, who said, “You’ve invested, volunteered, and made this happen, so let’s enjoy seeing the impact of ASPIRE.” The more than $121 million in investments from the campaign continues to impact multiple areas, including scholarships, facilities, and programs.
Annie Bryan of the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations participated in the commemorative video and attended the event. “We support institutions like Jacksonville University that support lifelong learning, civil discourse, and engaged community involvement… that dovetails nicely with the Foundation’s emphasis on developing human potential. Not just the four years of an undergraduate experience, but for a lifetime.”
The video, produced by Media Services Manager Greg Minton and University Advancement, highlighted many examples of JU’s unique, interdisciplinary approach to lifelong learning, something also on display at various interactive modules around the room.
Four Colleges, Two Institutes, Five Schools
Devon Variano ’18, a Master of Fine Arts student at JU, recently graduated magna cum laude with her bachelor’s in animation and illustration. She interacted with guests on a collaboration between two University divisions—visual arts and biology. Great Oaks from Little Acorns, a wall-sized canvas depicting a stylized, aerial view of campus sat ready for patrons to leave a mark, through quotes, stencils, and other creative whimsy.
A jazz quartet filled the evening with sound and synergy, each a JU student: bassist Mamie Lue Catalina Pelaez Small ’18, Holden M. Hackney ’22 on drums, Jacinto M. Sims, II ’21 on keys, and on alto sax, Luke Stribling ’22.
School of Aviation Professor Ross Stephenson, JU Aviation senior Rachel Chaput, and Parker Plumley ’20 represented the Davis College of Business module. Here, guests learned about everything from oyster reef restoration to drone technology and had the opportunity to try a flight simulator similar to the larger, more comprehensive simulation equipment on campus.
Biology major Janel Palomo ’19 and Laboratory Technician Brian Stadelmaier, along with other JU students, assisted guests interested in the College of Arts and Sciences. Projects ranged from algal blooms to 3D printing. Dr. Anthony Oullette, JU Biology Professor, was also on hand to answer questions and introduce guests to an exciting, JU-based video series “The Science of.”
Putting the University First
President Cost, one of the most generous alumni donors in the University’s history, delivered introductory remarks and expressed his deep gratitude to all who made ASPIRE such a great success. “Wait until you see the next five years,” he said, receiving enthusiastic applause.
First Lady Stephanie Cost, Society of Trustees Member Robert “Bob” Shircliff, Will Weatherford ’02, Chairman of the Board Charlie Tomm and Camille “Cami” Wodehouse also shared the platform, each spotlighting a different moment in the University’s history and growth. Positive moments that left an indelible mark on their lives.
“Real students. Real connections. It doesn’t get much better than that.” ~ Cami Wodehouse
“For our family to be involved in the ASPIRE campaign and to invest in the University is like having a front seat to the future,” said Stephanie Cost. “When I think of the oak that symbolizes our University—in our seal and the oaks all over our campus—I see how ASPIRE has given us a firm foundation for future growth.”
Shircliff reminded guests of the University’s motto: fiat lux, or let there be light. He said that light will take the University into the future and spoke with his usual enthusiasm. “I’ve never been more excited about the future of JU than I am today.”
Weatherford acknowledged that this year marked 20 years since he first stepped onto the JU campus. He then shared some favorite childhood narratives: Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Lamplighter and the traditional tale of a child watching a lamplighter through a window. “We need more light,” Weatherford said, “and more of us willing to punch holes in the darkness.”
The evening ended with a toast to the University’s future, smiles, happy tears, a stunning fireworks display, and a swelling hope for the forward momentum of a well-loved institution.
Join the JU Family for an on-campus celebration of ASPIRE Homecoming Weekend. For details, visit the Jacksonville University Homecoming page.