In conclusion of Bethlehem University’s Golden Jubilee celebrations, a dedication ceremony for the new Students and Visitors Building, named the “Georgette Salameh Center,” was held on campus. This momentous occasion was marked by a grand celebration, attended by local and international dignitaries, on Sunday, October 1, 2023, in front of the university’s Millennium Building.
The day began with a Mass presided over by His Excellency, the Apostolic Nuncio, Bishop Adolfo Tito Yillana, at the Church of the Divine Child on campus, blessing this significant event. Following the Mass, the dedication ceremony commenced for the newly dedicated student and visitor facility, aptly named after the late Georgette Salameh. The generous contribution of Mr. Ghassan Salameh, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Bethlehem University Foundation and son of Georgette Salameh, significantly supported the construction and equipping of this building.
The event was graced by the presence of distinguished guests from Bethlehem, alongside university officials, members of the International Board of Regents, the local Board of Trustees, and several members of the Bethlehem University Foundation Board of Directors from the United States. Also in attendance were friends of Bethlehem University, donors, and representatives of local and official institutions.
Rev. Dr. Iyad Twal, Executive Vice President of the University and the event’s master of ceremonies, welcomed the attendees and led a moment of silence to honor the martyrs of Palestine, followed by the Palestinian national anthem.
Brother Peter Bray, Vice Chancellor, spoke about the new building, highlighting its purpose as a space to welcome university visitors and guests and as a venue for students to engage in sports activities.
Brother Peter expressed gratitude to all the supporters of Bethlehem University, including the Salameh family, George Felton, who contributed to financing the rooftop basketball court, and the U.S. Agency for International Development, which also provided funding for part of the building.
Professor Bart McGettrick, Chairman of the International Board of Regents, extended congratulations to Bethlehem University on its fiftieth anniversary and emphasized the positive impact the new building would have on the university. He praised Bethlehem University’s significant contribution to the Palestinian community through higher education, describing it as a beacon of hope that nurtures peace in Palestine.
Prof. McGettrick also acknowledged Brother Peter Bray’s 15 years of dedicated service to Bethlehem University and wished success to Brother Hector Hernán Santos González, FSC, EdD from Paraguay, who will assume the position at the beginning of 2024.
Subsequently, the Apostolic Nuncio and Chancellor of Bethlehem University, Bishop Adolfo Tito Yillana, led a prayer for the new building. He, along with Brother Peter Bray, Ghassan Salameh, and his wife, Suava Salameh, unveiled the name of the new building.
In a heartfelt address, businessman Ghassan Salameh shared the touching story behind naming the building after his late mother, Georgette. Born in Lebanon to Palestinian parents who had sought refuge there in 1948, Ghassan’s educational journey began in UNRWA schools. His mother played a pivotal role in his education, securing a scholarship for him to attend a prestigious school in Lebanon for his final year of study. This scholarship opened doors to higher education and eventually led to his success as a prominent businessman in various fields. To honor his mother’s promise to the school principal, Ghassan generously donated to Bethlehem University, building and naming the facility in her memory.
To conclude the event, Brother Peter Bray presented honorary shields crafted from Palestinian olive wood to friends and supporters who contributed to the financing of the building.
Following a brief lunch break, attendees gathered in the university theater, where the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs orchestrated a series of folkloric performances celebrating Palestinian culture. These vibrant performances aimed to introduce guests to the rich tapestry of Palestinian heritage and culture, representing the essence of Palestinian identity.
The event featured captivating performances. The Wajd Band, closely associated with the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs and in collaboration with the Edward Said National Conservatoire of Music, delivered a soul-stirring musical performance, enthralling the audience with traditional songs.
The Al-Shorouk Band showcased the art of popular Dabkeh, a lively and rhythmic Palestinian dance, adding to the cultural immersion. Student Tala Nofal recited a poem by Palestinian poet Rafif Ziadeh, adding a literary dimension to the celebration. A video presentation highlighting student life at the university, skillfully presented by student Jimmy Al-Salibi, allowed guests to glimpse into the vibrant campus experience.
The President of the Student Union, Moatasem Abu Ghalioun, delivered a warm welcome to the university’s esteemed guests. He expressed gratitude to those who contributed to the financing of the new building for students and visitors, extending heartfelt congratulations to the university on its fifty-year anniversary.
In honor of this momentous occasion, Bethlehem University hosted a gala dinner, graciously sponsored by the Bethlehem University Foundation in the United States of America. The ceremony included a special tribute to His Beatitude Patriarch Michel Sabbah, the Latin Catholic Patriarch emeritus of Jerusalem, in recognition of his outstanding efforts and invaluable contributions to education. Patriarch Sabbah had previously served as the President of Bethlehem University from April 1980 to January 1988.
The closing activities extended over four days, encompassing meetings of the International Board of Regents and field visits in both Bethlehem and Jerusalem. In Bethlehem, the delegation visited the Church of the Nativity and the Shepherds’ Field in Beit Sahour. Additionally, they toured a project supported by the “Afaq” project, a collaborative effort between the university and the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem aimed at bolstering small-scale community projects overseen by the University’s Institute of Community Partnership. The group also explored the Palestine Museum of Natural History at Bethlehem University.
In Jerusalem, the Board of Regents and guests ventured through the Old City, visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and attended meetings at the Latin Patriarchate and the Freres School, where they engaged with various officials. In the morning, Board members met with participants in the “Student Ambassador” program, a university initiative designed to train students in effective dialogue and communication with foreign guests. Through this program, students convey an accurate representation of the university and the broader Palestinian situation to international visitors.
The activities culminated with a gathering in the amphitheater, where Brother Mark McKeon, Coordinator of Institutional Values, delivered a profound discourse on the spiritual significance of the Lasallian educational message and the guiding values upheld by the Christian Brothers in their stewardship of the university.
Prof. Iman Saca, Vice President for Academic Affairs, thanked the faculty and staff of Bethlehem University for their commitment, efforts and dedication to the institution and the students and said “Thank you for all your hard work, let us continue working together to educate the next generation of Palestinian students, not only academically, but help them grow and teach them how to be productive responsible citizens of the university, Palestine and the world.”
Prof. McGettrick, Chairman of the International Board of Regents, expressed his gratitude to all Bethlehem University employees for their unwavering dedication and efforts in advancing the university’s growth and development.
Brother Peter Bray, the Vice Chancellor, extended his heartfelt congratulations to all the dedicated university employees on the momentous occasion of the golden jubilee. He expressed deep gratitude to the entire university community and all those who have tirelessly contributed to its growth and development.
Brother Peter emphasized that this milestone serves as a compelling reason to redouble their efforts, reinforcing the commitment to advancing the university’s mission – providing comprehensive, high-quality higher education to the youth of the Palestinian people.
Brother Hector Hernán Santos González, who is set to assume the role of Vice Chancellor at the beginning of January 2024, expressed his profound joy at taking on this significant responsibility. He emphasized his dedication to working closely with the university community to build upon the achievements of previous years and to guide its continued development into the future.
Abu Al-Amir Al-Dajjani, the pioneering director of the Institute of Hotel Management and Tourism since the university’s inception in 1973, shared his insights during the meeting. He recounted the challenges and experiences faced during the university’s formative years, shedding light on the remarkable journey of building the institute into what it has become today.
Following his address, Sami Al-Youssef, the CEO of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, who has held several key positions at the university, including Dean of the Faculty of Business Administration and Vice President for Financial Affairs, shared his personal experiences at the institution. He reflected on the developmental transitions the university underwent, recalling a time when there were only three buildings as they embarked on this educational venture.
Rev. Dr. Iyad Twal, the Executive Vice President of the University, underscored the profound significance of this momentous occasion in Bethlehem University’s history. Established in 1973, Bethlehem University holds the distinction of being the first registered university in Palestine. Its founding came after decades of dedicated efforts in the realm of school education. Over the past fifty years, Bethlehem University has made substantial contributions to Palestinian society. It has played a pivotal role in nurturing and producing a substantial cadre of male and female graduates who have emerged as leaders in Palestinian society across various spheres – social, academic, political, and economic.
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