Groups Celebrate Seniors

In a glittering Sheraton Commander ballroom decorated with chocolates and flowers, Latino organizations on campus came together Friday night for the first time to celebrate the contributions of five seniors in the Latino community. “Homenaje Latino,” or a tribute to Latinos attracted over 200 students.

“It is inspirational to bring all of the groups together,” said Felipe A. Tewes ’06, who helped organize the event.

The evening began with opening statements and a song selection from the musical group, “Mariachi Veritas.”

After dinner, those in attendance applauded the senior honorees—Leyla R. Bravo ’05, Martha I. Casillas ’05, Claudia I. García ’05, Priscilla J. Orta ’05, and Omar A. Urquidez ’05.

The senior awards were selected through a nomination process on an on-line survey.

Keynote speaker Gus Frias emphasized the importance of helping those in need and developing relationships of honesty and integrity. Frias, an alumus of the Graduate School of Education, is responsible for developing violence prevention programs in Los Angeles schools.

Members of the Harvard community also presented a $500 check to high-school senior Lindsay G. Thornquit of Boston Latin School, who will be attending the University of Massachusetts in the fall.

According to event chair Shirley V. Cardona ’06, supporting Latino youth was an important component of the evening.

“The three pillars of this event were to promote youth talent, honor our peers, and showcase Latino talent through artistic performance,” Cardona said.

In addition to the many students at the event, several professors attended, including Director of the Harvard Foundation Dr. S. Allen Counter and Jr. Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Ira Jewell Williams.

Cardona and the Homenaje Latino committee have been planning the event, which included corporate sponsorship by Morgan Stanley, since early fall.

After the presentations and performances, the dance floor opened up, and students danced to a mix of Latino and pop music.

“At one point I looked on the dance floor from the balcony and was actually brought to tears to look out onto a sea of colorful Latinos who were enjoying, more than anything, each other’s company,” Cardona wrote in an e-mail. “I saw so many walls, distinctions, and inhibitions come down that night, and I just hope that this tradition will be kept alive and that year after year it will become an even greater event.”

Homenaje Latino was co-sponsored by the Cuban American Undergraduate Student Association, Fuerza Latina, Harvard Brazilian Organization, Harvard Organization for Latin American Students, Harvard Undergraduate Colombian Association, La Organización de Estudiantes Puertorriqueños en Harvard, Latinas Unidas, and RAZA.

“It is important for the Latino community to unite,” Cardona said. “In order for the minority community to unite as a whole, first, individual groups should unite.”

—Staff writer Nicole B. Urken can be reached at