Four alumni, who were honored on April 8 at Kean University Alumni Association’s 56th annual Distinguished Alumni Award event for their myriad of successes and the valuable influence they bring to the world, reflected a powerful sense of gratitude and the importance of giving back as they humbly accepted their awards.

The event, held in the North Avenue Academic Building, also included an abridged student performance of Pippin. Led by Associate Professor Ernest Wiggins and Musical Director Jack Bender, the musical was on the Kean stage in Wilkins Theatre in February. Through music and dance, the story is told by a leading player of a performance troupe of a young prince who travels the world looking for meaning and significance, very much like the four people honored that day.

“Great students create fantastic alumni,” said Kean University President Dawood Farahi as he introduced the honorees.

James J. Drylie, Ph.D. ’80 (B.A. Poli. Sci./Crim. J.), who has been executive director of the Kean University School of Criminal Justice and Public Administration since 2006 following a 25-year career in law enforcement with the West Orange, N.J. Police Department, said, “Kean today is a gem…I hope I make an impact on  my students today and that they will be the future distinguished alumni that we will be honoring.” In 2016 Drylie was the recipient of the Fulbright-Police Research and Criminal Justice Scholar Award.

Thomas J. O’Donnell ’72 (B.S. Psych.) ’76 (M.A. Ed.), who retired last year as assistant dean of students and veteran affairs at Stockton University after serving as Kean’s director of student activities and development for nearly 30 years and shepherding a championship-winning hockey team, said, “Through the years what Kean has done in terms of its impact on the nation, its impact on the state and its impact in the area of civil rights, civil movement and dedication to doing the right things is something that will live in my heart forever.” In 2017 O’Donnell was a contributing author of What’s Next for Student Veterans, a book that will be used as a text in veteran courses across the nation.

Mark Cheng ’05 (M.S. Accounting), who is a seasoned management consultant actively working on strategic engagements for global organizations as well as a board member, mentor and advisor for Kean’s Global Business School, said, “I have everything to thank them (Global Business School) for. And thank you Kean for all that you have given me, the platform to where I am now.” He also stressed the importance of connection, commitment and passion in achieving success. In his community, Cheng is president of the Performers of Westchester and an annual judge for InvestWrite with McGraw Hill Financial.

Michele G. Centeno ’91 (B.A. Comm.) echoed the sentiments reflected by her fellow honorees when she gave thanks to the Kean community and her family in accepting her award. The senior vice president at Arthur J. Gallagher’s risk management services group, said, “I always believed my life was about giving and making a difference…And I truly believe you have to have people influence you in order to make a difference.” The New Jersey native was honored last year with three awards--Elite Women in Insurance 2017 from Insurance Business of America, Top 100 Producer 2017 from Insurance Business America and Power Broker 2017 from Risk & Insurance. She is an active volunteer for United Dog Rescue, a 501 c (3) in southern Florida.

The Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes Kean alumni who have made significant contributions to society, and whose accomplishments, affiliations, and careers have honored the legacy of excellence at the University. Recipients are accomplished in three distinct areas: professional achievement and career distinction; service to society; and service and support to Kean. These areas reflect Kean's core value: excellence, integrity, leadership, loyalty, respect, and selfless services.

To see more details about this year’s recipients as well as past recipients, please visit www.keanalumni.org/distinguished-alumni-listings.

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