During the 2023 Newman University commencement ceremony, English and theater graduate Austin Schwartz and biology graduate Talia Powers were awarded with the most prestigious undergraduate award: the 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.
For Powers, a biology major with a concentration in pre-med and a minor and music, commencement day represented “a time to celebrate the accomplishments made at Newman.”
When her name was called as the 2023 female Ablah Award winner, she didn’t expect to have one more accomplishment added to the list.
“It was a huge honor, and then it was an even bigger honor to hear one of my really good friends’ names right after me — Austin Schwartz — as the male recipient,” Powers said. “Every single year, the Ablah winners are just such great people. So it’s incredible to even be grouped in that category of people.”
Vice President of Academic Affairs Alden Stout described Powers to the commencement crowd as “an exceptional student with a promising future.
“She exemplifies the four Newman core values of academic excellence, global perspective, Catholic identity and a culture of service,” he continued. “It would be hard to find a student more engaged in student life than Talia.”
Powers has been on the dean’s list every year. Powers volunteers for a hospice center and the Salvation Army, sings for the troubadours and chorale, served as a senator in the Student Government Association, and most recently performed as Ariel in Newman’s production of “The Little Mermaid.” She is also the 2023 recipient of the Sister Claudine Axman Award, awarded to a biology major who exhibits superior academic performance in the program and leadership in the community.
Out of all these involvements and accomplishments, Powers said the biggest takeaway from her time at Newman is the friendships she’ll carry for years to come.
Now, Powers is excited to continue her educational journey at the University of Kansas School of Medicine where she earned early admittance. She hopes to one day serve as a “conscientious and empathetic physician” to her patients.
One nominator said it best: “We believe that she will represent Newman well at KU Med and has all the skills she needs to be a wonderful doctor who we can all be proud to claim as a Newman alum.”
To current students still awaiting the finish line, Powers offers some advice: “Just keep working, keep pushing forward and find your support system. You can make it through it.”
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.
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.”
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.