Successful return: Scholarship Gala raises over $1.4 million

February 16, 2023

Jaylon Smith, starting linebacker for the New York Giants, speaks at the Scholarship Gala on Feb. 11. (Photo by Dean Orewiler)
It was a successful reunion for both Jaylon Smith and supporters of Trine University as the annual Scholarship Gala raised more than $1.4 million on Feb. 11.

Keynote speaker Smith, starting linebacker for the New York Giants, said the last time he had been on the Trine University campus, he was participating in the university’s football camp.

During that event, prior to his senior year of high school, the Fort Wayne native committed to Notre Dame to play college football.

The Gala also served as a reunion for many of the 364 guests who gathered in the elegantly decorated Keith E. Busse/Steel Dynamics Inc. Athletics and Recreation Center. The event had not been held in person since 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Generosity continues

Cisco Ortiz, left, vice president for student affairs, points to a bidder as retired State Sen. Dennis Kruse, emeritus member of Trine’s Board of Trustees, conducts the live auction at the Scholarship Gala. (Photo by Dean Orewiler)
The layoff did not impact the generosity of Trine University’s supporters, who contributed toward scholarships and Books and Beyond through donations, silent auctions, and a live auction conducted by former State Sen. Dennis Kruse, emeritus member of Trine’s Board of Trustees.

The total raised included a $300,000 matching gift from Trine board chair and alumnus Dr. Rick L. James and his wife, Dr. Vicki L. James, and The James Foundation, Inc.

“Our students depend on donors like all of you to make their education possible,” Gretchen M. Miller, vice president for administration and chief of staff, encouraged those in attendance. “Your generosity truly makes an impact on the lives of our students and their families.”

The Gala, launched in 2004 by Trine University first lady Melanie Brooks and trustee Dr. Sheri Trine, has raised millions of dollars throughout its history for Trine University scholarships and funding for Books and Beyond, which assists with books and other student expenses not typically covered by financial aid.

Paying it forward

Latrell Lapsley, a senior majoring in business administration, speaks prior to offering the invocation at the Scholarship Gala. (Photo by Dean Orewiler)
Those who attended the Gala were inspired by video testimonials from Trine University students who received scholarship aid.

Latrell Lapsley, a senior majoring in business administration, also offered remarks prior to giving the invocation for the event.

Lapsley reflected on the challenges of growing up in a single-parent household. He said he wanted to attend college from a young age, not only to improve his own life, but to help others.

“I wanted to go to college to be that individual who was able to put others in a better situation, because of the ones who helped me,” he said. “Each and every one of you here has helped me to be able to pay it forward.”

“I see your giving to this scholarship fundraiser as a way of giving hope.”

Thanks to support from scholarships as well as Books and Beyond, Lapsley has been able to not only attend Trine, but participate in organizations including football, the Multicultural Student Organization, Black Student Union, Trine Broadcasting Network and Residence Life.

“This engagement as a student has helped me grow and mature. I have learned how to overcome adversity,” he told those in attendance. “Thank you all very much for being here tonight and supporting a great cause, a cause that has profoundly impacted my life.”

Always a Hoosier

Presenting his address, Smith recalled riding to his grandmother’s cottage in the Angola area from Fort Wayne and thinking it was a long drive — until he experienced traffic in Dallas and New York.

He grew up idolizing his older brother Rod, who was a star running back at Paul Harding High School and inspired him to excel at football. Jaylon went on to win four state championships at Bishop Luers before going on to play college football at Notre Dame.

While his career since then has taken him to the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants, the NFL linebacker said he’s never forgotten his roots.

“One thing I know is Indiana has my back,” he said. “I care deeply about where I’m from, and I wouldn’t be here without Indiana.”

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