One of the great privileges of being president of Drake University is the opportunity I have to travel around the city, state, and world to engage with Drake alumni. A few weeks ago, I was able to travel to Panama on behalf of the institution. I was there to discuss potential collaborations with local high schools and universities, and meet with Drake alumni—we have quite a few in the area.
While my travels often put me in touch with interesting and inspiring alumni, I was especially moved by my interactions with one alumnus, Anel Beliz. Anel came to Drake in 1946 at the urging of an Iowa teacher who had relocated to Panama. He arrived at Drake with very little money or proficiency in the English language. At the time, we didn’t have programs to help students learn English, so he had to rely on the generosity and engagement of his faculty and fellow students to help him understand his coursework. Slowly, through hard work and determination, he began to master the language and to engage more in the life of the campus and community.
As a favor to President Henry Harmon, Anel volunteered to pick up another student from Panama at the airport, meeting the woman who would eventually become his wife. Anel, JO’50, and Olga, LA’50, were the first two individuals from Panama to graduate from Drake.
After several years in the United States, the couple returned home. Anel led a remarkable professional life and engaged in important work for his country. Among his many career achievements, he served as the public affairs director for the Panama Canal Commission, was a delegate to meetings of the Organization of American States and the International Monetary Fund, and served as the Panamanian Ambassador to France and Switzerland.
While his story in itself is inspiring, there was one moment Anel and I shared that truly energized me. Anel attended a reception we hosted for Drake alumni. As the evening drew to a close, he told me, with emotion in his voice, that he owed everything to Drake University. He reiterated that he came to Drake with little in his pocket and unable to speak English, but he left with a commitment from the love of his life and a world-class education that prepared him for what came next.
I shared Ambassador Beliz’s story at our fall Commencement ceremony because I am confident we continue to prepare our students as well as we prepared him for his future. While their journeys will be different, all of our students graduate with the capacity and ability to improve their communities and excel in their personal and professional lives.
Your generosity enables students to take full advantage of the powerful education we offer at Drake—just as the generosity of previous generations made Anel’s story possible. In this season of gratitude, please allow me to extend my sincerest appreciation for your dedication to our institution and the difference you make in the lives of our students. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and a happy new year.