Gala Latina 2021 celebrates Latinx, Hispanic excellence at Elon

The fifth annual ceremony recognized the academic and professional achievements of Elon's Latinx/Hispanic students, faculty and staff.

Elon University celebrated the accomplishments of Latinx/Hispanic students, faculty and staff during its annual Gala Latina awards ceremony on Friday, Oct. 22, in McKinnon Hall.

Assistant Dean of Students and Director of the CREDE Sylvia Muñoz welcomed the participants of Gala Latina.

More than a hundred students, faculty and staff were welcomed by Sylvia Muñoz, newly appointed assistant dean of students and director of the Center for Race, Ethnicity and Diversity Education (CREDE), as they gathered to honor the academic achievements and stellar service of the Latinx/Hispanic community on campus.

Gala Latina honors several inspiring role models within the Latinx/Hispanic community on campus. “You are thoughtful leaders within your organizations, you are incredible scholars, you are talented athletes, artists and activists but, most importantly, you are individuals who continue to show how proud you are of your roots, and who continue to show the strength, resilience, work ethics, and values of your ancestors,” Muñoz said.

The Latinx/Hispanic Academic Excellence awards, which recognize the student with the strongest GPA in each class, went to sophomore Kevin García-Reyes ’24, junior Eduardo Sánchez ’23 and senior María Mendoza ’22, who took home the same award last year.

The Latinx/Hispanic Honor Award and the Latinx/Hispanic Excellence Award both honor students for their great dedication, passion and awareness around Latinx/Hispanic identities or topics at Elon. Receiving the Honor Award, which goes to a junior or senior, this year was Sophia Robinson ’22. The Excellence Award, given each year to a first-year or sophomore student, was awarded to Manny Sánchez ’24.

Sylvia Muñoz delivered his Latinx/Hispanic Excellence Award to sophomore student Manny Sánchez.

Sánchez, as one nominator wrote, “works with Latinx organizations on and off campus to create a better sense of community.” Among other things, Sánchez, who is majoring in finance, worked this past summer as an Elon Academy mentor and participated in the 2021 Belk Freshman Diversity Program.

Sophia Robinson “puts hard work, time and dedication into each project she is assigned. She also makes the extra effort to be personable and help the younger students feel more comfortable and included,” one nominator said. Robinson, a major in International & Global Studies and in Political Science with a minor in Spanish, works at El Centro and recently helped lead Hispanic Heritage Month events.

This year the Latinx-Hispanic Union (LHU) Faculty/Staff Service awards went to staff members Delio Estrada Palacios and Oscar Miranda, and to faculty member Nina Namaste.

The Faculty Service Award was delivered by student Karen Cruz-Ruiz to Professor of Spanish Nina Namaste, of the Department of World Languages and Cultures.

Earning the loudest, warmest and longest applause of the night, Delio Estrada Palacios, who works in Elon’s Environmental Services as a custodian, received his award for his “dedication and constant support to our community’s students, faculty, and staff … and for making sure all Elon students live and thrive in a clean environment.”

Student Karen Cruz ’22 from the Latinx Hispanic Union, said about Delio Estrada Palacios: “We often see him as we walk through Moseley and he never hesitates to say, ‘Hola!’ followed by a ‘Que tengas un buen día.’ Although this may seem like a normal gesture, it makes the entire difference in the lives of us students.”

One of the warmest and longest reounds of applause of the night was for Delio Estrada Palacios, who won one of the two Latinx/Hispanic Staff Service awards of the night. He attended with his wife Amparo.

A student who nominated Delio said, “I see how devoted he is to ensure we study in an environment that is up to standards, and I want him to know that he is a valuable piece of what keeps this University going.”

Oscar Miranda, assistant director of Access and Student Support, was also recognized with a Staff Service award for ensuring that the voices of the Latinx/Hispanic community are heard at Elon.

Student Andy Torres ’22, who announced Miranda’s award, said, “This year’s awardee is not only a staff member but also an Elon alum. As an Elon student he was the president of what is now known as the Latinx/Hispanic Union and was one of the student leaders who pushed for the creation of the Latinx/Hispanic Working Group. He graduated from Elon with a degree in Psychology and later got a Master’s Degree in Higher Education from Harvard. We would love to recognize the loyal, devoted and kind Oscar Miranda.”

Professor of Spanish Nina Namaste was distinguished as well with a Faculty Service Award for consistently showing up at different Latinx/Hispanic events, checking in with students during class and even living among students, as a faculty-in-residence on campus.

At the end of the event, before the participants enjoyed eating dessert and taking pictures with each other, the students themselves voted online to elect the winners of the “Superlatives” Awards: most likely to know everyone, most likely to brighten your day, most creative ideas and most willing to push to change the world. The winners of those informal awards were, respectively, Andy Torres, Valentina Echavarría, Nico Gaspar and Héctor González.

The event finished with the charge to students by Nico Gaspar’ 22 and with closing remarks by Maity Interiano ’07, an Elon journalism graduate who today is one of the most recognized faces of the show Despierta América, in Univision Miami. Jon Dooley, vice president for student life, represented Elon’s senior administration during the ceremony.