Students, faculty, alumni and family members from the University of Michigan community gathered virtually Friday evening to celebrate the 2020 Michigan Difference Student Leadership Awards. Held through a YouTube video by the Office of Student Life, the annual awards ceremony honors student leaders and groups that have displayed incredible accomplishments in Michigan, around the country and around the world. 

This year, about 300 students and organizations were nominated. Nominees were selected by a committee of students and faculty.

Simone Himbeault Taylor, interim vice president for student life, opened the ceremony by remarking on the importance of the large volume of nominees this year.

“This number speaks volumes to who we are as a campus,” Taylor said. “First and foremost, it tells us that we have many worthy leaders among us. The number of nominations also tells us that we are a part of a strong community that actively celebrates and recognizes the accomplishments of others.”

Steven Bodei, associate director of leadership education at the University, discussed how the ceremony had evolved over nearly a decade. He said the award ceremony initially consisted of a couple of speakers and few people in attendance. Over time, however, Bodei said the ceremony has shifted to become a more student-centered event.

Bodei said student leaders are needed more than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic to continue to make the “Michigan Difference.”

“It is really important to recognize students who are doing that work and who we know will continue to do that work as times change for us,” Bodei said. “In a time of a lot of uncertainty and things that are not necessarily as positive, it gives folks the opportunity to be recognized and feel good about the work that they have done and how they have helped their organization.”

A spectrum of awards was given throughout the event, ranging from students and organizations involved in social change, community service, professionalism and more. 

The South Asian Awareness Network received the Student Organization of the Year Award. The First Year Student of the Year Award was awarded to LSA freshman McKenzie Raymond, Sophomore of the Year Award was given to Engineering sophomore Jeremy Segal, Junior of the Year Award was presented to LSA junior Sumaya Tabbah, Senior of the Year Award went to LSA senior Kelly Bertoni and Graduate Student of the Year Award went to Rackham student Rama Mwenesi.

LSA senior Ayako Tischler and Business senior Crede Strauser won the Individual Sustainability Award. As co-presidents of Planet Blue Student Leaders, they organized and trained a group of 12 students to act as “eco-reps” who engaged their peers in campaigns to promote sustainable behavior change. The pair also supported a partnership with the Office of Sustainability on campus to promote composting in residential halls.

Tischler said she is honored to join a cohort of past award winners and nominees, whose hard work she said empowered and encouraged other students.

“Winning this award reminds me that I do work with other students and I do work on a program that inspires students to engage with sustainability,” Tischler said. “It is a really nice reminder that I think that this means my students that work with me care and find value in the program.”

Many student organizations were showcased at the ceremony. Engineering junior Jack Riley accepted the Group Wellness Award on behalf of the Men’s Glee Club.

The Men’s Glee Club hosted a concert in November called “You are Enough,” a performance addressing mental health stigmas that affect students on campus. Currently, the concert has been viewed by more than 7,000 people live or online through various streaming platforms, including a Spotify album.

The performance started in Ann Arbor and was then brought to Detroit, Charlevoix and the Milan federal prison in York Township. The Men’s Glee Club also connected with nearby Michigan high schools to perform with them and to begin a dialogue about mental health stigmas students may face.

Riley talked about the future of the Men’s Glee Club, sharing a glimpse into what next year’s performance will hold.

“Our next fall concert is focused on themes of unity and bringing people together,” Riley said. “The concert falls days after the national election in November. Our big focus is, regardless of what the outcome of the election is, we want to be advocating messages of coming together to make our community more safe and whole.”

Contributor Alexandra Greenberg can be reached at

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