Students Recognized as Designated Driver HEROs

Three University students won the Designated HERO award for their decision to be designated driver and practice responsible behavior regarding drinking and driving at the fifth annual Designated HERO of the Year awards ceremony on Friday, March 3.

According to Susan Schaad, the Health Services Substance Awareness Coordinator, the HERO award is a prestigious honor presented to an individual at a participating HERO Campaign place of higher education. The nominees demonstrate the high values and standards that underline the HERO Campaign theme of “Be a HERO. Be a Designated Driver.”

Aziza Ahmed, a sophomore health and physical education major and a thrower on the University track team, was named the winner of the Designated HERO of the Year award for 2014. She received a $300 gas card, a HERO campaign t-shirt and a plaque.

“My initial response to receiving the award was excitement,” said Ahmed, “I was so honored to receive such a great award.”

Ahmed was followed by freshman lacrosse player Nick Hreshko, who took second place, and senior football player Stephen Andes, who was awarded third.

Hreshko and Andes both walked away with prizes. Hreshko received a $200 gas card and Andes a $100 gas card. Both students were also given a HERO campaign t-shirt and a plaque for their achievement.

Aside from the top three award winners, runner-up nominees were also honored, including Jackie Burzo, Robert Panasuk and Samantha De Almeida.

Schaad said over 60 nominations were received from students for the award. After compiling each of the entries, Schaad said the HERO Campaign Student Group voted on the finalists.

“The winner is expected to display the characteristics of a leader and role model, academically and socially through making honorable decisions, staying true to themselves and display a high level of respect and maturity amongst their peers,” said Schaad, “The HERO of the year has demonstrated these attributes through their actions and have been recognized by their peers as an outstanding individual and a true friend.”

Unlike previous years, Schaad stated that the top three winners were all student-athletes, and Hreshko was the first lacrosse team member to place at the University’s HERO awards.

Dr. Marilyn McNeil, Vice President and Director of Athletics, said, “We are not surprised of the nomination of our student-athletes for the HERO awards. We believe that much of the focus of the award-teamwork, cooperation, looking out for each other, and responsibility, are the very values that our coaches instill in our students every day. We are proud of these athletes and applaud them on their notable contributions in this area of student life.”

Creator of the HERO Campaign, Bill Elliott, spoke and welcomed an audience of nearly 80 attendees. Elliot said the HERO award reminds him of John Elliott, a Navy Ensign of NJ, who was killed in a head-on collision with a drunk driver. He said the campaign has now become a nationwide effort dedicated to preventing drunk driving accidents.

Elliot emphasized that the event was focused on celebrating the great decisions the finalists were making, and recognizing and encouraging their efforts.

After Elliot’s speech, the Community Award was then presented to NJ Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini, while the singing group, The Sea Sharps, sang “Stand by Me.”

The finalists were then presented to the audience by Schaad. After the winners were presented, Gary Mejia, the 2011 HERO award winner, spoke about his experience as a former winner.

“I hope this award brings awareness of how bad drunk driving is to students,” said Ahmed. “I know that my friends, who nominated me and even came to the ceremony, really know how bad drunk driving is now.”

According to Ryan Clutter, an University alumnus and former recipient of the HERO award, the feeling of pride over the award does not seem to fade. Clutter said after receiving his award he has come to fully realize the impact of the campaign.

“Receiving the HERO award was a tremendous honor. I was always the designated driver for my friends purely for their well-being, and reliable so they never had to make a bad decision. It was very humbling to be recognized with a certificate for my actions and I’m proud to be a HERO. That certificate is hanging on my wall right now and it’s a moment I’ll never forget,” Clutter said.

Overall Schaad hopes that this year’s nominees and future candidates will feel similarly to Ahmed and Clutter. She said, “I hope it shows students they can make a choice and it will be rewarded and appreciated. I hope it becomes part of the planning of the night …where to go, what to wear and who is going to be DD.”