CHAUTAUQUA — The Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle Alumni Association of Chautauqua Institution has a mission to provide for residents of Chautauqua County with careers and passions in the literary field. This mission was recently continued through an Alumni Gala event.
Each year, the Alumni Association awards four teachers or librarians scholarships to participate in the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle. Those who receive scholarships are then able to take a four-year literary arts writing class in the summer. After graduation at the end of those four summers, they then establish their own reading circles in their home communities with other teachers, librarians or students.
Before 2008, part of the Alumni Association’s funds for the year had to go toward paying for maintenance of Chautauqua Institution’s Alumni Hall. In 2008, that changed, and the scholarships became the association’s main major fundraising effort for each year.
This year’s major event was the Alumni Gala, which took place Wednesday at the Chautauqua Golf Club.
“Typically we do a raffle or a picnic, but we decided to make an effort to do an event like this year,” said Samantha Busch, marketing chair of the Alumni Association. “Some previous recipients of scholarships gave a speech. We had a silent auction with donated items. Everybody participated and with that and the ticket sales, we raised the most we have ever raised for this program.”
Speakers at the gala included Sony Ton-Aime, director of Literary Arts; Amber Sipior, a 2019 scholarship recipient and Bemus Point teacher; and Mary Kay Zuravleff, the prose writer-in-residence.
The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra League, made up of three violins and a cello, also played during the event.
Busch said Sipior talked about her decision to apply for the program in her speech. She applied right before the pandemic, and two of her years of the program were held in-person with the last two being on Zoom. Sipior said the program has helped with her confidence and ability to speak to other members of the community, including a Rotary Club that she was recently asked to speak at.
Zuravleff, who’s book “American Ending” was chosen as a part of Oprah’s 2023 reading list, talked about the importance of literature. Her book, while fiction, also pulls from her own life, including the story of her grandmother who was born in Appalachia and then had her American citizenship stripped after marrying a Russian.
Ton-Aime, who also spoke at the event, said she was grateful for the support the scholarship program receives from the community.
“I believe offering scholarships to instructors in Chautauqua County is one of the most tangible and rewarding ways to share and put into action CLSC’s mission and I’m infinitely grateful that this initiative is supported,” Ton-Aime said. “If we can bring local instructors with a passion for lifelong learning and literary arts into our classes, workshops and conversations it is a win for the Institution, a win for the instructors and a win for their students. I’m so deeply thankful for everyone’s efforts and their donations that keep this initiative going and growing and for the support from the CLSC Alumni Association.”
Pat McDonald, CLSC Alumni Association president, agreed, thanking everyone who made the night a success.
“It was wonderful to have one of our recipients speak to the impact the initiative has had on her and gave us a chance to further illustrate to our membership how the CLSC Alumni Association mission can be realized in the community,” McDonald said.
Busch said the event went really well. The room was full, and Busch reported that no one left early or right after the speeches. She said it was the exact right energy one would hope for a kickoff year for what is planned to become an annual event.
She encouraged other local teachers and librarians to apply for scholarships next year and participate in the program. Busch said the mission of the Alumni Association is to connect with community members and allow scholarship recipients the opportunity to come to Chautauqua Institution and immerse themselves in their life-long learning, and allow them to invest in themselves and their own personal growth.
“It’s a great opportunity for them to take a break or pause from their busy lives and dive deeper into their passion,” Busch said.
More information on the Alumni Association and scholarship program can be found at clscalumni.com.