Byline: Richard Duckett
WORCESTER -- Leonard F. Gengel told 381 Becker College students about to receive degrees during commencement exercises at The Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts on Saturday that everyone gets knocked down in life -- "it's how you get up that defines you as a human being.''
Mr. Gengel's life was irrevocably changed Jan. 12, 2010, when his 19-year-old daughter Britney K. Gengel was killed in a catastrophic earthquake in Haiti. Ms. Gengel was one of 14 students and faculty members from Florida's Lynn University on a relief mission with Food for the Poor. With his wife, Cherylann, Mr. Gengel went on to establish the 19,000-square-foot Be Like Brit orphanage in Grand Goave, Haiti.
Mr. Gengel of Rutland gave the commencement address at Saturday's graduation and he and his wife received honorary degrees, along with Sheila M. Harrity, principal of Worcester Technical High School.
A 1984 graduate of Becker, Mr. Gengel said to the class of 2014 that "I know how you feel ... Be proud of yourself. You did it.''
Initially, however, "Becker College gave me the foundation of my life and I didn't even realize it,'' he said. But Mr. Gengel told the soon-to-be graduates that "even in your darkest hour you will take from this college what you learned ... Trust me when I tell you this.''
In remarks that were delivered with plenty of passion and received a standing ovation at the end, Mr. Gengel said the inspiration for the orphanage was Britney Gengel's final text message to her mother. "She had texted, 'They love us so much and they're all so happy, I want to move here and start an orphanage myself.' ''
Mr. Gengel had run a building company for 30 years. He retired, and he and his wife went about the goal of building the orphanage for their daughter. There were naysayers, he said. He told the Becker graduates that they too would encounter naysayers. But the response to the project from around the world has been "heartfelt and unbelievable,'' he said. The orphanage opened in January, 2013, and when the first child, a boy, entered, "I saw Brit, I saw that text -- that little boy's life was going to change forever,'' Mr. Gengel said.
Meanwhile, Becker College has formed a partnership with Be Like Brit and three groups of Becker staff and students have gone to Haiti volunteering hundreds of hours of service. Mr. Gengel called on volunteers from the 2014 graduating class to stand up and be recognized.
Becker College president Robert E...