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Nine win Spirit of Princeton Award

Nine students were awarded the 2014 Spirit of Princeton Award, which recognizes students who have made positive contributions to the University community.

Ray Chao ’15, Estela Diaz ’14, Sara Figel ’14, Jenesis Fonseca-Ledezma ’14, Adam Mastroianni ’14, Matthew Vengalil ’14, Benedict Wagstaff ’14, Tiana Woolridge ’15 and Trap Yates ’14 were selected from a group of students who were nominated by members of the University community.

The Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students uses the award to recognize students whose contributions to the arts, community service, student organizations, residential living, religious life and athletics go unrecognized by the University at large, according to the award’s website.

Deputy Dean of Undergraduate Students Thomas Dunne said that the students were chosen by a selection committee made up of undergraduate students, alumni and administrators from campus life. Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Princetonian Marcelo Rochabrun ’15 was part of the selection committee.

“In the end, the committee worked towards consensus on the number of students to recognize; the committee particularly prized both deep contributions to specific areas of student life outside the classroom and for overall breadth and reach in their work,” he said.

Chao is a Wilson School concentrator from Arcadia, Calif. He has served as captain of the mock trial team, Director of Program for the Whig-Clio Society and treasurer of the Asian-American Students Association. He has also been a Breakout trip leader and coordinator through the Pace Center.

“When I came here, I wanted to find the meaning in service work and do something that was rewarding,” he said. “I wanted to have an impact on people outside of classmates and myself. Princeton’s motto kind of helped shape my vision with service work.”

Diaz, a sociology concentrator from Baldwin Park, Calif., has worked at the Women’s Center since her freshman year, served as the co-president of Princeton Pride Alliance since her sophomore year, served as a LGBT peer educator, and has been a mentor for Latinos Unidos Networking and Advising and Student Volunteers Council One on One Mentoring.

“I’m incredibly honored that someone took the time to even write the letter in the first place,” Diaz said, “but it’s exciting to see the pool of students that have been selected really represent the new generation — the new spirit of Princeton that is emerging as [the University] become increasingly diversified.”

Figel is a Wilson School major from Manhattan Beach, Calif. She is an Orange Key tour guide, a student representative on the Committee on Discipline, a residential college advisor in Rockefeller College, treasurer of Cap & Gown Club, artistic director of Fuzzy Dice Improv comedy and a Writing Center fellow.

“Princeton has been such an incredible place for me,” she said. “It means a lot to have been able to make a meaningful contribution to the place I care about so deeply.”

Fonseca-Ledezma, an English concentrator from Los Angeles, Calif., said she was “really grateful” to receive the award.

She is the current president of Ellipses Slam poetry, helped relaunch the Tiger Tuesday admitted students program with the Assistant Director of Admission, co-founded CityStep Princeton, is a student coordinator with the One on One Tutoring program and is a mentor through the Princeton University Mentoring Program.

“Princeton has definitely changed my life, and it’s exciting to receive something from the University that means a lot in terms of tradition and honors in the services, arts and innovation,” Fonseca-Ledezma said.

Mastroianni, a psychology major from Monroeville, Ohio, said he also nominated other students for the award, so it was “bittersweet” receiving the news that he was selected.

“I’m grateful, but it’s hard to draw the line somewhere [for these awards] on a campus where people contribute so much,” he said.

Mastroianni is a member of Quipfire!, cofounded Princeton’s first and only late-night talk show All-Nighter, served as an RCA in Whitman, is co-chair of the Communications Committee of Whitman College, serves as a Writing Center fellow and is a senior cartoonist for the ‘Prince.’

Vengalil is a psychology concentrator from Grosse Point Farms, Mich. He is currently secretary and board member of the Student Health Advisory Board, head of the South Asian LGBT activism group Queer Desi Tigers and an LBGT peer educator. He has served as treasurer of Princeton Pride Alliance and was an editor and writer for Princeton Asia Review.

“I came to campus believing, on account of my Christian faith, that leading by example was the most powerful agent of social change,” Vengalil said. “Rooted in my own experience struggling to accept who I was … I have spent my four years here trying to be an ally to people who have thought and experienced similarly.”

Wagstaff, a Wilson School concentrator from Washington, D.C., said he was “taken aback” when receiving the news on Friday morning.

“It’s sort of like the biggest honor that you could receive,” he said. “It was incredible to know that someone out there felt that it was worth nominating me.”

Wagstaff has served as the social chair of the International Student Association at Princeton and the USG. He also plays polo, is a member of the chapel choir and started Coffee Chats, a program where a group of five random students come together to meet and discuss different topics.

Woolridge is a Wilson School concentrator from Sherman Oaks, Calif. She is a member of the women’s varsity volleyball team, member of the Student Health Advisory Board, volleyball representative for the Varsity Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, vice president of the Minority Association of Premedical Students and founder and chair of the Student-Athlete Service Council. She was also selected as a student-athlete representative for the Athletic Director Search Advisory Committee.

“I hope that I’ve contributed in a way that sets something new in place that will hopefully continue in the next few years,” Woolridge said. “Hopefully bigger and better things will happen as more people come through the University.”

Yates is a history major from Sutton, Mass. He has served as a coordinator and leader of Breakout trips, a member of the USG Social Committee and the USG Campus and Community Affairs committee chair, an RCA in Wilson and Director of Hotel, Director of Program, and Director of Supreme Court for Princeton Model Congress. Yates was also an associate editor for Street.

“I hope that more people on campus are glad that I came [here] than people who are not,” he said. “If more people are glad that you’re around, then that’s good.”

Correction: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this article misstated the name of the Whitman College Communications Committee. The ‘Prince’ regrets the error. 

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