Hundreds celebrated alumni achievement and the impact of the University of New Orleans at the 2022 Distinguished Alumni Gala, presented by the National Urban League, at the National WWII Museum on Wednesday. The annual gala was part of a weeklong slate of activities that marked the kickoff of Next Is Now, the University’s first-ever comprehensive fundraising campaign.
In honor of the campaign, several New Orleans landmarks were illuminated Privateer blue, including the Caesars Superdome, the Hibernia Tower, the Pan American Life Center Plaza and the Canopy of Peace at the National WWII Museum.
“This is an amazing evening for the University,” said UNO President John Nicklow, who noted that the University has nearly 50,000 alumni in metro New Orleans and a total of 80,000 around the globe. “The influence of our graduates is extraordinary, and it is important that we honor and celebrate our exemplary alumni.”
The festivities included a fireside chat-style conversation moderated by alumnus and emcee Mark Romig and featuring 2022 Homer Hitt Distinguished Alumni Award recipient Michelle Miller and 2022 Norma Jane Sabiston Young Alumna of the Year Lauren Gibbs. Former U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu provided poignant remarks about the importance of honoring Sabiston, her dear friend who died in 2020. Sabiston was longtime political strategist and fiercely proud UNO alumna who was a previous president of the UNO Alumni Association.
Miller and Gibbs talked about the importance of their UNO education, why the institution matters to the region, what excites them most about their alma mater and why it’s worth supporting. In addition to celebrating Miller, a CBS News correspondent and host of “CBS Saturday Morning”, and Gibbs, owner and CEO of Gibbs Construction, the University also recognized distinguished alumni from each of its four academic colleges and athletics.
- The College of Business Administration honored Michael Achary, senior executive vice president and chief financial officer at Hancock Whitney;
- The Dr. Robert A. Savoie College of Engineering honored Dalton Boutte, a retired oil and gas executive who served as president of WesternGeco, the seismic subsidiary of Schlumberger;
- The College of Liberal Arts, Education and Human Development honored Nancy Degan, a trial lawyer, partner and shareholder of the New Orleans office of Baker Donelson;
- The College of Sciences honored Darryl Willis, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Energy & Resources Industry;
- Privateer Athletics honored Stuart Weidie, president and chief executive officer of Blossman Gas.
Nicklow introduced a video that featured UNO students and alumni discussing their university experience, how it has impacted them and how UNO serves as an important public asset to the region. He said the University has raised $30 million with another $10 million in commitments toward the goal of $50 million for the Next Is Now campaign.
“We are able to enter the public phase of our campaign because of the support we’ve received from you and others like you,” Nicklow said. “We have made so much progress as an institution and this campaign will allow us to harness that momentum and propel the University to new heights in a new era.”