Newly Accredited Sy Syms Bestows Inaugural Humanitarian Award on Mortimer Zuckerman at Gala

Yeshiva University’s Sy Syms School of Business celebrated its 26th anniversary and the graduating class of 2013 with a Gala Awards Dinner on April 23. The evening honored students and faculty who excelled within their fields and demonstrated exceptional character and included a presentation of the inaugural Sy Syms Humanitarian Award to Mortimer B. Zuckerman.

“We come tonight with a full heart to celebrate the arrival of the Sy Syms School of Business as an institution of the first ranks, newly accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, with the establishment of a new honors program and tremendous success on the parts of the students, deans and faculty,” said YU President Richard M. Joel, listing a few of the school’s most notable recent accomplishments.

The AACSB accreditation, obtained in March, is an especially significant achievement for Sy Syms, as it has only been awarded to some 6 percent of more than 10,000 business schools worldwide.

“The Sy Syms School of Business plays a vital role in Yeshiva University’s mission and it has made enormous strides in the last few years in both the quality of its faculty and course offerings, which is reflected in the success of our alumni,” said Dr. Henry Kressel, chair of the Yeshiva University Board of Trustees, in an address to students before the awards ceremony.

Speaking about the necessity of economic success to the survival and growth of Jewish communities throughout history, he said, “It is imperative that YU train business leaders that will demonstrate a strong commitment to the values we share and leave college equipped to successfully compete in the industrial and financial arena. You picked the right school—you’re getting the outstanding education necessary for individual success as business leaders and as leaders of the Jewish community.”

According to Dean Moses Pava, the importance of that balance, which is a guiding philosophy at Sy Syms, is one that top business schools around the world are just beginning to appreciate and adapt. “You are living in a period of transition,” he told students. “Today, business schools are learning that they should not only provide you with a set of tools as you start your professional journey, but with a location to interpret life’s meaning and challenge and sharpen your sense of purpose about the very reason you’re going into business in the first place. The point is not to bifurcate our lives but to lead lives of meaning and integrity, or, as President Joel says, shleimut—wholeness.”

Jonathan Weiss, one of the class’s two valedictorians, echoed that theme as he discussed the unique emphasis on ethical and moral leadership he had discovered in his business education at Sy Syms. “One of the most important lessons that I learned throughout my three years here, in my interactions with everyone from the wonderful roshei yeshiva to my professors and fellow students, is the importance of integrity in everything we do,” he said. “We must always be aware that wherever we go, we are representative of not only Yeshiva University but all committed Jews, and we must show ourselves to be ethical in all our doings.”

Co-valedictorian Ayelet Haymov focused on the remarkable personal attention and support from faculty members that had enabled her to undertake challenging internships in the accounting departments of businesses like Versace and Fox News. “Throughout the year, my professor stayed in touch with me to make sure that not only was I thriving in a professional and academic setting, but that I was doing okay mentally and emotionally as well,” she said. “Sy Syms has provided my peers and myself a place to foster our intelligence and recognize a world beyond the classroom, and though there will be difficulties and setbacks ahead of us, our teachers have trained us to tackle all challenges and achieve greater successes with persistence, fortitude and capability.”

Awards were presented for excellence in accounting, finance, marketing, management and student service, as well as honors for the highest-ranking juniors and the two valedictorians. Faculty members who had made a deep impact on their students were also recognized. Assistant Professor of Marketing Dr. Jesse Itzkowitz received the Lillian F. and William L. Silber Professor of the Year Award, while Adjunct Instructor in Information Decision Sciences Dr. Kevin Barabazon was named Professor Peter Lencsis Adjunct Professor of the Year.

The event was organized by the Sy Syms Student Council and held at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. During the formal dinner, President Joel presented Mortimer B. Zuckerman with the first-ever Sy Syms Humanitarian Award in honor of the media and real estate mogul’s efforts and ethical business practices throughout many years in philanthropy and business. Zuckerman is the co-founder and executive chairman of Boston Properties, as well as the owner and publisher of the New York Daily News and of U.S. News & World Report, where he serves as editor-in-chief.

“Mort is a Jewish leader par excellence who remains a steadfast, independent Jewish advocate that cares deeply about his people and the State of Israel,” said President Joel. “Our students need real heroes like him to look up to and emulate, men and women of conviction and good faith who recognize their obligation to succeed in their communities and contribute to them as humanitarians.”

The two-part Humanitarian Award consisted of a gift of $25,000 to express appreciation of Zuckerman’s work and an engraved Jerusalem stone charity box.

“The issues that I care about are in many ways focused on a part of my life I’m very proud of, which is being Jewish and being a part of the Jewish world,” said Zuckerman, recalling what it meant to be a member of the Jewish community when the State of Israel was announced. “I’ve never really lost the thrill of it, and I was determined to do whatever I could to support that state in its efforts to be independent, safe and a homeland for Jews who come from many other parts of the world.”

Though he warned the soon-to-be-graduates that they may be facing one of the worst job markets since he himself graduated from business school, Zuckerman reminded them that there were still and would always be great opportunities. “You have the advantage of an awful lot of good training and education and commitment to doing good work,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of ups and downs, but if you hang in there, you’ll learn that persistence and determination are about as important as any other quality you’ll bring to your work.”

Lynn Syms, wife of the late Sy Syms, who established the business school in 1987, found the awards ceremony and dinner an enriching experience. “Looking at this amazing group of young people, my husband would be over the moon,” she said. “We have reinvented ourselves and we’re on to really great things.”

In her remarks, Sy Syms Foundation President Marcy Syms remembered her father, sharing several personal anecdotes and his business philosophy with the students. “I hope that by sharing these memories of Sy, the entrepreneur and humanitarian, I am able to offer you some of the lessons that made such a difference in my life. I hope they are also meaningful to you, and that they resonate.”