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Ellis Island Family Heritage Awards Bestowed

Ellis Island National Monument

National Park News

Laughter and tears were the order of the day at the Ellis Island Family Heritage Awards, which this year honored author Mary Higgins Clark, educator Donna E. Shalala, entertainer Mel Brooks, and the Forbes family, whose media company is one of the most successful family businesses of its kind. The awards are bestowed by The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation and honor “immigrants or their descendents who have made a major contribution to the American Experience.”

In the Great Room at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum on Thursday, April 17th, master of ceremonies ABC news correspondent Lynn Sherr oversaw a program that included performances of “The Immigrant’s Song” from the Broadway musical “Titanic” and “God Bless America” by The Winchester College Chapel Choir from the United Kingdom, as well as remarks by Stephen Briganti, president and CEO of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Lee Iacocca, and David Verhey, principal deputy assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks for the Department of the Interior.

 â€œThe immigrants who came through Ellis Island saw this harbor as a gateway to America and to the American ideals represented by Lady Liberty,” said superintendent Cynthia Garrett in her welcoming remarks. “Whether you or your ancestors passed through New York harbor, or arrived through some other port of entry, the Statue of Liberty encourages all of us to connect with the ideas she represents.  The extraordinary Americans we are honoring this morning exemplify these connections.”

Told through excerpts from passenger manifests, photographs and music, the deeply moving stories of the honorees and their families were powerful reminders of the hopes and dreams that have brought and continue to bring immigrants to “the land of opportunity.” Some families – like Mary Higgins Clark’s – struggled multiple times, while others, such as the Forbes family, prospered much sooner. But all their tales share the common threads of determination, ingenuity and passion. Following his or her family’s story, each honoree received a copy of the original ship’s passenger manifest documenting their ancestors’ arrival.

In his acceptance speech, Mel Brooks made the audience laugh with his sharp wit, but he also pointed out that, while the United States may not have the drinking songs of Ireland, the bagpipes of Scotland or the deep heritage of Lebanon to call its own, it benefitted immeasurably from those who brought those traditions with them.

“It’s great to be an American,” he said.


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