Len Gengel named Becker College’s 2014 Commencement speaker

Published on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Be Like Brit co-founder and Becker alumnus will deliver keynote address at 226th commencement


During commencement next month, Becker College seniors will hear what it really means to be world ready graduates. Len Gengel, an alumnus of the Class of 1984, will deliver the keynote address at Becker College’s 226th commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 10, 2014, at 11:00 a.m., at the Hanover Theatre in downtown Worcester.

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.

“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.”

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 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.

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 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.

“Our partnership with Be Like Brit has truly transformed our students and has given them a deep desire to make our world a better place,” said Debra Pallatto-Fontaine, Ph.D., professor of teacher education and family studies at Becker.  Dr. Pallatto-Fontaine has led trips to Haiti as well as given more than 85 hours of staff development to Be Like Brit employees.  “Len Gengel is a remarkable human being; a father who made the choice to turn heartbreak into hope.  The Becker College Be Like Brit volunteers are honored to have him be our commencement speaker this year.”

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’s commencement will honor graduates from all degree programs and the Accelerated Studies program. During the ceremony, Becker will present Gengel with an honorary doctorate degree of humane letters for his commitment to the entrepreneurial spirit and strong, community-focused values. Becker will also bestow honorary degrees to Cherylann Gengel 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 will also deliver Becker’s Honors Convocation address at 3 p.m. on Friday, May 9 at the College’s Leicester Campus. For more information, visit the Becker College Commencement 2014 website.