Former President George W. Bush served as keynote speaker Thursday at the Cuyahoga Community College Foundation's 2014 Presidential Scholarship Luncheon, which raised a record $1.6 million to benefit veterans' initiatives and student scholarships.
More than 1,200 people attended the sold-out luncheon at the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel to help raise critically needed funds for those who might otherwise be unable to afford a college education.
The luncheon featured a moment of silence to remember the lives lost in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. President Bush reflected on the events of that day during a question-and-answer session moderated by Alex Johnson, president of Cuyahoga Community College.
This year's luncheon put a special emphasis on veterans' initiatives, which are also a focus of the Bush Institute. The institute's Military Service Initiative honors the service and sacrifice of post-9/11 veterans and military families by improving their well-being and unleashing their potential.
President Bush commended Tri-C for its veterans' programs: "You are doing an excellent job of educating vets and helping them find jobs," President Bush said of the College.
Throughout its history, Tri-C has demonstrated its commitment to the men and women who served in the U.S. Armed Forces by providing specialized services that assist them in transitioning from military to civilian life. Tens of thousands of veterans have attended Tri-C since the College opened in 1963.
The foundation's Veterans Scholarship Fund is among the numerous scholarship programs benefiting from the Presidential Scholarship Luncheon.
"The generous supporters of this event share our belief that education is the way to a brighter future," said Richard A. Chiricosta, chairperson of the Tri-C Foundation. "The many scholarships the luncheon funds change countless lives for the better."
Tri-C support services to veterans and their families will be expanded and enhanced in the future thanks to a significant gift from Norma Lerner and The Lerner Foundation.
The gift – announced during the luncheon – will establish the Alfred Lerner Veterans Services Center at Tri-C's Eastern Campus in Highland Hills.
The College estimates the Lerner Center will serve more than 10,000 veterans and their families through outreach services and programs. The center is named for the late Alfred Lerner, a trailblazing philanthropist and businessman who served in the U.S. Marine Corps.
"Because of my belief in supporting veterans and honoring the legacy of my husband, my family and I are pleased to partner with Cuyahoga Community College and provide support for establishing the Alfred Lerner Veterans Services Center at the Eastern Campus," said Norma Lerner, president of The Lerner Foundation.
President Bush joins a list of distinguished speakers to headline the Presidential Scholarship Luncheon, including former President Bill Clinton, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Since its inception in 1992, the luncheon has raised more than $15 million to help Tri-C students with financial need pursue higher education.