All-Star Honorees Embrace Italian Heritage at 2007 NIAF Gala
Rudolph W. Giuliani, presidential candidate and former New York City Mayor, and Nancy Pelosi , Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, received standing ovations from the 3,000 guests attending the National Italian American Foundation’s (NIAF) 32 nd Anniversary Awards Gala on Saturday October 13, 2007 at the Hilton Washington & Towers.
Giuliani and Pelosi each received NIAF Special Achievement Awards in Public Service at the black-tie gala, highlighting the increased prominence of Italian Americans in U.S. leadership. Louis Freeh, former director of the FBI and NIAF’s general counsel, and Governor of Arizona Janet Napolitano presented the awards respectively.
Academy Award-winning director Martin Scorsese gave an emotional tribute to Jack Valenti, a NIAF founding member a nd former head of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), while receiving the Jack Valenti Award from Mary Margaret Valenti, wife of the late movie industry icon. With the award, Scorsese launched the Jack Valenti Institute, which will fund Hollywood internships for young Italian Americans interested in pursuing careers in film.
Ellen Pompeo , star of the ABC drama “Grey’s Anatomy,” came to the podium to receive a NIAF Special Achievement Award in Entertainment. Holding the award high above her head, she exclaimed, “This is for everyone who has sacrificed and left their country to follow one’s dream,” in reference to the sacrifices made by her grandparents, who immigrated to the U.S. from Gesualdo, Italy. The award was presented to her by NIAF Vice Chairman VincentViola.
Other NIAF 2007 gala awards recipients also included: CEO of AARP William D. Novelli, whose NIAF Special Achievement Award in Public Advocacy was presented by NIAF Board Member Patricia de Stacy Harrison, president and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and Connie Stevens, actress, singer, and entrepreneur, who received a NIAF Special Achievement Award for Humanitarian Services by NIAF Vice Chairman Joseph R. Cerrell.
During the evening, NIAF Vice Chairman Jerry Colangelo introduced a NIAF video tribute to Luciano Pavarotti, with remarks by legendary actress Gina Lollobrigida. Former NIAF Board Members Ambassador Peter F. Secchia and Lee Rizzuto each pledged $1 million toward a $3 million goal to endow the NIAF Voyage of Discovery Program, which enables young Italian Americans to see Italy for the first time.
At the gala, NIAF Chairman Dr.A. Kenneth Ciongoli introduced one of Italy’s highest ranking officials, Franco Danieli, Italy’s Deputy Foreign Minister. Other notables in attendance included Italy’s Ambassador to the United States H.E. Giovanni Castellaneta, U.S. Ambassador to Italy Ronald P. Spogli, Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito, Jr. and Antonin Scalia, Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, Gen. Peter Pace, recently retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, President of Georgetown University John J. DeGioia, and FrancoNuschese, president of Georgetown Entertainment Group.
The evening included performances by Vittorio Grigolo, an opera tenor who trained under Pavarotti, and Italian-Australian singing sensation Alfio. Celebrities at the gala and weekend activities included actress Susan Lucci, singers Deana Martin, Neil Sedaka, Jerry Vale and Dion, baseball legend Yogi Berra, actor Tony Lo Bianco and former NFL player Vince Ferragamo. CNBC Anchor Maria Bartiromo was this year’sthe master of ceremonies.
This year NIAF awarded more than $1.15 million in scholarships and cultural grants to students across the U.S. and Italy. To further recognize our young supporters, NIAF organized its 11 th Annual Youth Gala, which attracted more than 300 Americans of Italian descent from 20 states. While the youth gala participants were finishing their dinner, Scorsese and Pompeo made an appearance to greet the young crowd. Afterwards, the young adults, along with many gala attendees, enjoyed a post-gala dessert reception.
Earlier on Friday at a noon luncheon, Mrs. Laura Bush gave the keynote address and received the Foundation’s Special Achievement Award in Literacy in recognition of her efforts to help America’s youth. The First Lady spoke about the many ways that Italian Americans have enriched communities across the nation and the love of learning shared by Italians and Americans. Ciongoli presented the award to Mrs. Bush.
The weekend also featured Friday evening’s “Salute to the Martini” with a performance by rock and roll legend Neil Sedaka, a panel discussing “The 2008 Presidential Election: Is there an Italian-American Vote?,” with participants Michael Barone, senior writer for the U.S. News and World Report and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute; Robert Novak, nationally syndicated columnist and Fox News commentator; and Bill Schneider, CNN senior political analyst. Other events included NIAF’s celebrity auction and luncheon in addition to the Foundation’s Council 2000/Youth Networking Breakfast featuring former Super Bowl NFL coach Dick Vermeil and former NFL player Vince Papale. The breakfast included a presentation of the fifth annual NIAF Teacher of the Year Award to Peter LoJacono, a teacher of Italian language and culture at Hutchinson Central Technical High School in Buffalo, N.Y.
NIAF guests also enjoyed Piazza d’Italia, a two-day best of Italy exhibition, featuring Maserati, Ferrari and Lamborghini, luxury sport vehicles, wine tastings, a cooking demonstration, and a newBook Pavilion featuring works by Italian-American authors .
Italy ’s Region of Liguria was this year’s sponsoring region from Italy. Proceeds from the weekend events will benefit NIAF’s scholarship and education programs. NIAF President Salvatore J. Zizzathanked the guests for attending this year’s event and invited all to attend NIAF’s 33 rd Anniversary Convention Weekend on October 17-18, 2008. The gala closed with a chorus of “God Bless America.”