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August 2019

Summer Gathering: Some Surprises at a Milestone

Text and photographs by Michael J. Leahy

The Summer Gathering this year marked a milestone. And it included a number of surprises.

As usual the evening brought together a happy crowd of scholars — some who had just completed their summer internships and were about to start college, others upperclassmen and graduates, still others longtime Scholarship Plus supporters — at the West Side home of Soma Golden Behr, the program’s Co-Founder and Senior Advisor. The rooms hummed with news of internships completed and majors chosen, tales of semesters abroad, new jobs and at least one plan for applying to Ph.D. programs. 

After an hour or so Executive Director Kate Fenneman Stokes climbed to the stairway landing overlooking the living room and announced that we were celebrating a special achievement: the 10th anniversary of the founding of Scholarship Plus. She paid tribute to the two co-founders, Soma Golden Behr and Melanie Rosen Brooks. “The passion that they give to the program every day, from the founding to now,” she said, “is just amazing.”

Then, looking down at Soma, she added something more. “Soma,” Kate said, “is hosting her own surprise party.” At 80 years old, Kate said, “You have impacted so many lives.” There was appreciative applause, and then came another surprise.

Kate said that since the program’s foundation, there had been intermittent searches for the summertime combination of paid internships, unique city experiences and cultural outings to plays and museums that are a foundational part of the “Plus” in Scholarship Plus. Various attempts at giving this experience a name had not hit the mark. But from now on it will have a name: SOMA — for Summer of Meaningful Activities.  

The program’s inspiration and namesake exclaimed: “That’s good. I really like it.”

Next came another surprise, this one electronic. Many scholars from over the years had recorded video tributes to Soma, recalling advice she had given them. The videos, from as far away as New Delhi and Puerto Rico, had been orchestrated by Emely, a junior at the School of Visual Arts. The video ended on another island — Liberty Island, where this year’s class of interns shouted “Happy Birthday, Soma!” in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty.

“You kids are fantastic,” Soma responded. She went on to talk briefly about her vision from the beginning that the scholars “have to hang together and be there for each other,” believing in themselves and acting from that confidence and determination.  “When you get a bump,” she said, “just get back up and go.” In an evening full of surprises, the final heartfelt words in her response were unsurprising: “I love you all.”

A parade of three ice-cream cakes appeared, candles were blown out, and the cheerful sounds of many voices resumed.

Executive Director Kate Fenneman Stokes addressed a room full of scholars, alumni, and supporters gathered to celebrate the program's 10th year and Co-Founder Soma Golden Behr's 80th.

Co-Founder and Director Melanie Rosen Brooks, long-time volunteer Frances Lester, and our guest (and host!) of honor's husband, Bill Behr.

Pre-med scholars talk shop: rising senior at Binghamton, Shuofei, talks with Ebrahim who will be going into his second year at Colgate.

Scholars, old and new, filled the home of Co-Founder and honoree Soma Golden Behr for Scholarship Plus' annual Summer Gathering.

Incoming first-year student, Frank, who is headed to Hamilton later this month talks to founding Associate Board member and our resident Art Director Autumn Von Plinsky.

Love and celebration abounded — and surrounded — Soma Golden Behr, the program's Co-Founder and current Senior Advisor.

Next: College Transition Day: Practical Questions and Psychological Insights