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In Events on May 29, 2015 - 11:54 am

2015 Pittsburgh Awards Banquet

With the Pirates playing the New York Mets and the Carson Scholars Fund’s (CSF) 11th Annual Pittsburgh Banquet, Heinz Field was teeming (pun intended) with excitement. The regal routine of entering through the club entrance, taking the special elevators to the second floor lounge and exiting into a world of starry wonder made all the celebrants of academic excellence feel welcome. The newest stars on the horizon were of course the Carson Scholars and to emphasize the point, 20-inch balloons in gold, red and blue hues hovered above many of the tables. Each balloon had four smaller well-rounded gold ones just below the star, representative of the parents, educators, families and mentors who support the academic superstars!

Sally Wiggin, host of “Chronicle” on WTAE-TV, joined the event as emcee for the 9th time in the 11-year history of the Pittsburgh Carson Scholars Awards Luncheon ceremony. Ms. Wiggin was honored in a very special way just a few weeks ago. A proclamation by the Pittsburgh City Council established Tuesday, March 17 to be Sally Wiggin Day! This was in recognition of her outstanding journalism career and her contributions as a community leader. We are all so excited for you Sally! See the video report here.

However that is not all. Ms. Wiggin was recently inducted into the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame!  This honor is well-deserved, and thank you, Sally, for your passionate dedication for excellence in journalism and in generous-hearted community service!! View more about her induction here.

Ms. Wiggin began the program by informing the audience that, “we will be honoring 108 new Carson Scholars and 165 repeat scholars from Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia who have proven themselves to be high achievers both academically, as well as compassionately with their involvement in their communities.” And with that, she presented the 2015 Carson Scholars.

Each of the students walked tall and proud from the rear to the stage in double file to separate in opposite directions and flow to their seats.

2015 scholar, Elliott Howsie II, a 5th grader at Pittsburgh Linden, is no ordinary 5th grader. He actually published a book entitled Life is Too Short to be Scared when he was only 9 years old! This very capable young man led everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance.

The blessing was given by Brian Rosario, an 11th grader at Sewickley Academy. He serves as president of several clubs at his school and aspires to a future of assisting children globally. He expressed his words of gratitude for the many blessings received from the Heavenly Father which included the gifts of each scholar, the opportunities they had, the families that gave them support and the educators that helped them succeed. He followed with a plea that each and every one would give a little bit of themselves to Him and that “our schools would grow bigger and better, our communities would become brighter, our country would become a better become stronger and the world would place to live.” He closed by praying that each one would become a mentor like Dr. Carson is to the future generation.

When Ms. Wiggin returned to the microphone, she began by thanking the electronic violinist who played during lunch. Giving the overall history of the CSF, including the total of more than 6,700 scholars honored over the years in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., she continued with the landmark achievement of Pittsburgh’s 1000th scholar. What is perhaps more impressive is the fact that 11 students were present who won the award five times or more! Two scholars, Elisa Varlotta and Krathika Pennathur had attained seven honors from the Scholars Fund!! Ms. Wiggins asked all scholars to stand who had a sibling who had won this award and everyone was amazed at the number of students who got to their feet! With over 3.6 million dollars in scholarships paid out and an alumni network of over 3,200 scholars making a difference in the world, she introduced the special video showcasing some of CSF’s stellar alumni.

After the alumni video, the scholar reflection by six-time winner Jenna Geibel centered around striving to be the best, taking on all challenges in life, and never giving up. She began with a quote about how each individual has the ability to choose which way they prepare, pray and achieve to make their dreams come true. She recalled times when her mother would stay up with her to help her study and how that helped her to understand you can overcome any obstacle with perseverance. Next fall, Jenna will pursue a career in early childhood education and special education.

Next, Ms. Wiggins introduced the man who shares Dr. Carson’s vision and has worked tirelessly to make that vision a success in Pittsburgh, Dr. Al Costa.

Dr. Costa welcomed all to the banquet, especially recognizing parents, teachers and administrators. Special donors were given accolades, including S&T Bank, Dr. Gerald & Mrs. Patti Loyacona, Dr. Herbert & Mrs. Phyllis Bazron, Mr. Dave & Mrs. Lauren Murray of Rusmur Floors, The Pittsburgh Steelers organization, Mr. Robert & Mrs. Rosemarie Schuler, Mr. Thomas & Mrs. Fran Donahue and Mr. Tom & Mrs. Song Kehoe. The staff members of The Costa Land Company were lauded and applauded for their incredible job of fund raising and implementing a successful event. The staff included Sarah Piccione, Samantha Hirshberg, Kristen Malagise Mandy Carragher. Last but not least, the volunteers were also thanked and Monica Fortuna, who has volunteered for every Pittsburgh Carson Scholars event since its inception, was acknowledged.

Dr. Costa then spoke of someone who is 99% responsible for each and every person being there. In a successful business, leaders come to understand that one of the most important jobs is that of the facilitator. This particular facilitator runs an important real estate organization, always with a smile and is nice to everyone. This young lady is not only very effective in her management, but is always pleasant in her interactions. He expressed his deep appreciation for Ms. Sarah Piccione and her excellent leadership and dedication.

Dr. Costa then brought Dr. Ben and Mrs. Candy Carson to the stage for the Spirit of Achievement Award presentation. They stated that “this award honors a person for positively impacting society through dedicating their life to positively impacting the community. This year the award is presented to the Honorable Thomas M. Piccione.”

In his acceptance speech, Judge Thomas Piccione expressed that his passion for giving back began in high school. He said he not only was elated to give back in the armed services, but could also give back and positively affect the lives of others when he chose a career in law. He assured the crowd that he couldn’t have attained the success he had without the dedication of his wife, Diane. When he spoke of his health challenges, having received a heart transplant just six months ago, he also expressed gratitude for the support of his family. Judge Piccione spoke about his faith and how it gave him the strength and perseverance to be strong in even the most difficult of times. He also challenged everyone in the audience to be kind and caring everyday of their lives and that we can all make a positive impact on society if we would just try.

Dr. Costa continued in the spirit of the day, speaking of the accomplishments of the students and acknowledging the fact that the support of their families played a big role in their accomplishments. He called up a member of his own family, his son Alfonso Jr. After graduating Shady Side as a top student, he attended Yale University and maintained a high academic average while playing basketball. When he graduated he received a special award for doing more community service than any other athlete. Also, while earning his master’s degree at Oxford, he played basketball and subsequently taught at a New York City inner city school for Teach for America. This soft-spoken, yet intelligent young man with a love for family is the epitome of what a parent would have their child become. Dr. Costa then welcomed him onto the stage to present the Rosalia Costa-Clarke Memorial Award.

Alfonso Jr. spoke lovingly of his Aunt Rosalia “Lilly” Costa-Clarke. Although her life was cut short, her caring influence still lives on. As a lawyer, her caring persona showed in her dealings with clients and others all around, while her kind and thoughtful ways with people and with animals still live in our hearts. The Rosalia Costa-Clarke Memorial Award was established to honor her memory and is awarded to a student who exhibits kindness, a zest for life and a love of animals that our dear friend, sister, wife and aunt displayed every day of her life. This year’s Rosalia Costa-Clarke Memorial Award was presented to Katrina Luffey, a 5th grade honor roll student at Pittsburgh Banksville Pre K-5 School. A couple of examples of how she helps people are by obtaining and distributing coats and blankets to the homeless of Pittsburgh and also packing dinners for the needy at the Southside Rotary Club.

Dr. Costa then introduced his friend who is more like a brother in their philosophies and approaches to life, Dr. Ben Carson. Dr. Carson began by pointing out that these young people are “the leadership of our world tomorrow and the ones who will make a difference.” And profound congratulations are in order for the Pittsburgh Chapter for reaching the landmark total of over 1,000 awards, after starting with only 20 awards 11 years ago during their first year. This chapter of Carson Scholars is second only to the home chapter in Baltimore and says a lot about what one person can do. It really was Dr. Al Costa who with his drive, determination, expertise and business savvy made this chapter grow. This is an excellent example of how a person’s influence, wherever they are, can make a difference. After citing America to still be a place of hopes and dreams, he went on with his history of dreaming to become a doctor and his journey from the bottom of the class to succeeding in school. He then stated that the “what-can-you-do-for-me” attitude needs to be replaced with the “can-do” attitude. That’s the reason for the humanitarian component of the award. These young people have a head start to success, since selfishness leads to conflict, and these unselfish future leaders will be more focused on solving problems rather than thinking about “what’s in it for me.” Examples of out-of-the-box thinking were given as ways to solve problems in the community. Dr. Carson’s final remarks were centered around his THINK BIG acrostic.

While the students were lining up to be recognized, Dr. Costa addressed the valor, honor and sacrifice of a special group that was present, those who served their country. When the veterans stood, there was thunderous applause!

Mrs. Carson took the podium to give a description of the Ben Carson Reading Rooms and their history. There are now 131 reading rooms established in 17 states and Washington D.C. She also introduced the latest initiative in connection with the reading rooms, a brand new children’s book, Anything Is Possible: The Ben Carson Story, which was presented in a video.

The crowning touch of the awards ceremony was the distribution of the scholar awards. After Ms. Wiggin announced each high academic achiever and they ascended the platform, scholars were congratulated by Dr. Carson, Dr. Costa, and Mrs. Christina Costa Montani, followed by Mrs. Carson’s signature hug. Group photos in the bleachers of the stadium captured the momentous occasion.

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