Len Gengel '84 Takes Class of 2014 on a Moving Journey

Published on Monday, May 12th, 2014

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Worcester Telegram & Gazette: “Becker Grads Hear Inspirational Message
Worcester Magazine: “NFL’s Carolina Panthers GM ran draft from Worcester graduation
Worcester Telegram & Gazette: “Coach runs NFL draft from Worcester; son graduates from Becker

Becker alumnus Len Gengel, Class of 1984, delivered the keynote address at Becker College’s 226th commencement ceremony, held on Saturday, May 10, 2014, at 11:00 a.m., at the Hanover Theatre in Worcester. Three hundred and eighty one candidates were awarded bachelor of science, bachelor of arts, and associate of science degrees.

Gengel addressed the Class of 2014, charging them to be proud of their accomplishments and to realize the value of their Becker education. “Thirty years ago I sat right where you are sitting,” he said. “Becker College gave me the foundation for my life and I didn’t even realize it. It is the footing that holds you up. Even in your darkest hour, what you have learned here will help you through it.”

In 2010, Gengel’s life changed when he learned his daughter, Britney, was killed in the catastrophic earthquake that devastated the country of Haiti. Since that fateful day, Gengel and his wife, Cherylann, and their family, have dedicated themselves to improving the lives of the children of Haiti through the Be Like Brit orphanage.

After running his building company for 30 years, Gengel retired to focus on founding and constructing the 19,000-square-foot Be Like Brit orphanage in Grand Goave, Haiti. In Britney’s final text message to Cherylann, she told her mother that she hoped to move to Haiti and start an orphanage someday. This text message prompted Len and Cherylann to turn their personal tragedy into a passion to honor their daughter’s last wish—to provide a home and an education to poverty-stricken children in Haiti, and to raise the next generation of Haiti’s leaders. In January 2013, Britney’s dream—and the Gengels’ hard work—came to fruition when the Be Like Brit orphanage opened.  Len and Cherylann co-wrote a bookHeartache and Hope in Haiti: The Britney Gengel Story, chronicling their moving and inspirational experiences.

“When your life starts hitting the wall, take that book out,” said Gengel, who, along with Cherylann and the Becker Alumni Association, is providing each graduate with a copy. “They said I couldn’t build an earthquake-proof orphanage in Haiti … People are going tell you that you can’t do something. But let me whisper something to you—you can do it. I know you can. You’ve got this. Don’t let them tell you it is impossible.”

Becker College bestowed upon Gengel an honorary doctorate degree of humane letters. Gengel was honored for his commitment to the entrepreneurial spirit and strong, community-focused values.

“The Becker College Class of 2014 could not have a more striking example of transformation, determination, and social responsibility as they embark on their personal and professional journeys,” said Becker College President Robert E. Johnson, Ph.D.  “A Becker alumnus, Len is an example of what it means to be a global citizen.”

Becker’s mission is to transform students into global citizens, which led the college to form a partnership with Be Like Brit in 2012. Since then, three groups of Becker faculty, staff and students have gone to Haiti. During these trips, 36 individuals have volunteered more than 105 hours of service helping with orphanage construction, making repairs to employee houses, and collecting and donating supplies.

Gengel, who started a successful company–C&S Builders (an acronym for College Student)–in 1982 while he was a student, garnered many accolades during his three decades in the business. Gengel’s accomplishments include Homebuilder of the Year Award in Massachusetts and designation as “A Quality Builder,” in the book Recognition, Gratitude, and Celebration, published in 2007.

Becker also awarded an honorary doctoral degree to Cherylann Gengel, co-founder and treasurer of Be Like Brit, and to Dr. Sheila Harrity, principal of Worcester Technical High School, for their achievements of extraordinary and lasting distinction and for demonstrating personal and professional qualities that are consistent with the mission and values of Becker College.

Dr. Harrity has been the principal of Worcester Technical High School since 2006. She was selected as the Massachusetts Principal of the Year in 2013, the same year Worcester Tech received the National Blue Ribbon School distinction for outstanding student achievement from the U.S. Department of Education.  In late 2013, she was honored nationally as the 2014 MetLife/National Association of Secondary School Principals National High School Principal of the Year.  Dr. Harrity was selected as the 1997 Teacher of the Year for Worcester Public Schools, has been inducted into the Worcester Public Schools Athletic Hall of Fame, and a Massachusetts State Teacher of the Year semi-finalist in 1998.

Cherylann Gengel is a wife, a mother, a business partner, a community leader, and was recently named one of “25 Women Changing the World” by Conversations magazine. She helped turn the loss of her daughter, Britney, into the gift of a better life for children in a country torn by catastrophe and poverty. As treasurer for the Britney Gengel’s Poorest of the Poor Fund, Gengel devotes her time and energy to influence others to make a difference by investing in the mission of the Be Like Brit orphanage, to “serve the children of Haiti by establishing a safe, nurturing, and sustainable orphanage in an environment where they can grow, learn, and thrive.”

The commencement ceremony had a special meaning for Dr. Johnson, as the Class of 2014 is the first full cycle of students to graduate since he became Becker’s tenth president in 2010. “Every class that graduates from this institution is special, but you are especially important to me,” he told the graduates. “We started this journey together four years ago. And we can now say ‘we did it’ together.”

Awards of distinction were presented to graduating seniors. The President’s Award, which recognizes a graduate who has shown outstanding school spirit, leadership, and community service, was presented to Jacqueline L. Chila (Business Administration). Katelyn M. Burns (Criminal Justice: Forensics/Crime Scene Processing) received the Samuel May Award, which recognizes a graduate who has shown scholastic achievement, excellence in character, and leadership. The Dean’s Award, which is given to the graduate with the highest grade point average in the bachelor’s degree program, was presented to Timothy J. Donahue (Graphic Design).

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