University of La Verne President Devorah Lieberman was presented the Ellis Island Medal of Honor May 7 from the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations, a group committed to honoring diversity and tolerance.
The prestigious award is given to a group of distinguished American citizens who are dedicated to community service and celebrate their ancestral lineage, according to the NECO website.
“It represents the heart of what this country is about, which is diversity, immigration, accomplishment, success and opportunity,” Lieberman said. “It has everything to do with Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty and welcoming people into our country, and I believe in that deeply.”
Lieberman accepted this award on behalf of her mother and family who came to the U.S. through Ellis Island.
“My mother and her family came on a boat from Czechoslovakia before World War II because they were escaping some of the anti-Semitism in Europe,” Lieberman said. “My grandfather came through Ellis Island and sold things door to door until he could raise enough money to send money to his wife and three daughters.”
Recipients range from United States presidents to Nobel Prize winners, in addition to leaders in industry, education, arts, sports and government. Lieberman was nominated by past recipient and Chief Executive Officer of The East Los Angeles Community Union David Lizarraga.
“He and his wife have singlehandedly redesigned East Los Angeles so that Latino businesses can flourish,” Lieberman said. “When he called and said that he wanted to nominate me, I was so humbled that he would think of someone like me.”
Lizarraga wrote a nomination letter that touched on Lieberman’s integrity, passion, gravitas, humanitarianism and ethnic heritage. In addition to her dedication for education, tolerance and leading with integrity, Lizarraga wrote about her “President of the Year” award in 2015 by the Association of College Union’s International.
Chief Diversity Officer and Vice Provost Beatriz Gonzalez believes the hard work Lieberman has put into the University exemplifies her qualifications for this award.
“I think it was so well deserved because she has done so much to support and advance underrepresented people throughout her career,” Gonzalez said. “Her doctorate is in intercultural communications, so she has always been interested in different cultures, different people.”
Gonzalez said Lieberman’s award will benefit the University and its core values.
“It shows that our people are really living the mission,” Gonzalez said. “It’s not just something we talk about. It’s who we are, it’s what we do. It shows that we really all walk the talk.”
Joshua Bay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.