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Footloose Theme Highlights the Journey of Students and Donors at the Annual Muma College of Business Scholarship Luncheon

By Keith Morelli

Scholarship Luncheon Sign

TAMPA (August 30, 2019) -- The paths of some 400 people converged Friday morning in the USF Marshall Student Center, though it was the journey of Renata Gomes Martins that took center stage at the annual Muma College of Business Scholarship Luncheon. The international student’s trek to the ballroom was punctuated with, well, her shoes. She had brought a couple of pair along to illustrate the different stops on her road to Tampa from her Brazilian home.

The shoes of three other surprise guests also found their way onto campus Friday morning, which led to an emotional reunion near the close of the event. To view a photo gallery of the event, click here.

About half the attendees were scholarship recipients, students soaking up the knowledge they need to be successful in the competitive world of business. The other half were scholarship donors, whose gifts have made it possible for these students to succeed. In all, more than $600,000 – a record – in scholarships was awarded to nearly 300 students, who sat, had lunch and got to visit their benefactors a little bit over the course of the luncheon.

The paths that brought them there Friday probably weren’t as challenging as Gomes Martins, who began her journey to America when she was a teenager living in a one-bedroom home in Curitiba, a city in southern Brazil.

“My parents didn’t understand the bureaucracy and paperwork that it would take,” said Gomes Martins, the keynote speaker at the event, whose first taste of American education was at a private boarding school in Central Florida. “They had no idea how much it would cost. Or how to pay for it.  Or what it would take to get to America. I started figuring out the mountains of paperwork involved and completing all of the forms myself … in English.

“I applied for financial aid. I applied for a passport. I connected with the U.S. consulate and applied for a student visa. I filled out immunization forms,” she said. “You know how complicated this kind of paperwork can be. I was doing it mostly by myself, asking a lot of questions, filling out forms in another language, at the age of 15.

“I had just learned how to go the grocery store by myself and there I was, applying to move overseas to a country that I had only read about and dreamed of visiting one day.”

She landed a volleyball scholarship at Montverde Academy near Orlando, earned a second athletic scholarship that carried her through Lake Sumter State College, where she got a job on campus to make some extra money. It was just in time, as she got news that her father had just been laid off.

“I had the chance for payback,” she said. “My salary as a student assistant was larger than our household income when both of my parents worked.  So, I sent part of my paycheck back home to help my family.”

She’s now a senior at the Muma College of Business studying global business and marketing and is set to graduate in May.

“I bleed green and gold now, thanks in part, to the money I saved from my part time job – and my grades,” which earned her the academic scholarships she needed to finish.

“These academic, merit scholarships, along with a few student loans, are making this journey possible,” she said. “And what a journey it is.”

Her scholarships have allowed her to study abroad, in such far flung places as Prague and Nairobi, trips she would not have been able to take, had it not been for scholarships funded through donors’ gifts.

“Imagine,” she said, “there I was, a girl from Brazil, in the Czech Republic, as part of an American university experience.”

She also landed in Kenya this summer, on a three-week internship in Nairobi and those study-abroad experiences, she said, changed her life.

“I feel like a new person and I have seen things that I really didn’t know existed. With my international business degree, and this new understanding of the world, I now see that I can be a business executive and make the world better.

“Think back to 5-year-old Renata in Brazil,” she said. “When I was back with my family in that one-bedroom home, I was loved and had dreams, but not dreams this big.”

She ended her speech by pointing to another set of shoes on the stage. Professional dress shoes.

“These are the shoes that I plan to wear on my first job interview after I graduate in May,” she said. “My degree and international experiences will help me walk into that job interview as an impressive young student – and walk out with a job offer in hand.

“They say that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” she said. “Donors, each of you are helping a student take that first step.”

She had said she had hoped her parents could be in the audience to see her as a keynote speaker in front of 400 people. Well, they were. Through donations, the Muma College of Business arranged for Gomes Martins’ parents and sister to fly to Tampa from Brazil. Mom and Dad sat in the audience, concealed among 50 tables of students and donors, faculty and staff, watching their daughter deliver her remarks with confidence and poise, even though they couldn’t understand a word she said. They even sat low in their chairs to further conceal their presence.

Dean Moez Limayem took the stage and introduced Gomes Martins’ parents, Marlene and Flavio. They came up on stage and embraced, tears streaming down their faces. The room broke out in applause, with many of the attendees's eyes welling up with tears. For the Gomes Martins family, the steps that brought them together on a Friday afternoon on the USF campus will be remembered forever.

In keeping with the theme, each guest received a pair of USF socks.

“Students,” Limayem said, “every time you wear these socks, I want you to think about the donors in this room today who are making your journey possible.”

And one student, Esmeralda Garcia Hernandez, received a gift card from the USF Credit Union to take a round-trip Southwest flight anywhere in the United States within the airline’s service area.

Mosheh Vann is a recent graduate who benefitted from several scholarships prior to graduation last year. This year is different, he said during opening remarks.

“A journey is a common metaphor for life,” he said. “Let’s be real. There are times when the roads are straight and times when they’re winding. There are ups and downs and potholes along the way … Sometimes the best surprises and discoveries happen when you step onto an unplanned path.

“I am not here representing the students who are receiving funds,” he said. “I am here today as possibly the youngest donor in the room. You see, shortly before graduation, my older brother and I decided to ‘pay it forward’ by creating a scholarship fund and contributing to it from our first days as alumni.

“Today, I am happy that I am going to enjoy lunch with the very first recipients of the Vann Brothers Beating Adversity First Generation Scholarship Fund,” he said. “And we are excited to join this group of life changers.”