Penn Honors Seven Alumni Including Creative Spirit Awardee Hollywood’s Jonathan Avnet

The University of Pennsylvania will honor seven distinguished alumni at the 2016 Alumni Award of Merit Gala on Friday, Oct. 28.

Writer, director or producer of more than 70 films, TV shows and theater productions, Jonathan “Jon” Avnet will receive the 2016 Creative Spirit Award for his life-long commitment to and excellence in the arts. A 1971 graduate of the College, his motion pictures, television movies and Broadway plays include the 1983 blockbuster Risky Business, plus Black Swan, Fried Green Tomatoes, The Burning Bed, Spamalot and History Boys, among others.  

Avnet has supported the arts at Penn as a donor, leader and mentor. He has served as an Arts & Sciences Overseer since 2002, and established the Avnet Screenwriting Fund bringing visiting screenwriters to teach on campus. He has also been a regular guest at the Kelly Writers House and a dedicated mentor and industry resource, offering Penn students sponsored internships at his film company, Brooklyn Films.

Sharing the spotlight with Mr. Avnet will be Alan K. Levin, Paul S. Levy, William L. Mack, Jayne Davis Perilstein and Ehsan “Nanou” El-Tahry Zayan, who will all receive the Alumni Award of Merit, along with Lauren G. Hedvat, who will accept the Young Alumni Award.

Alan Levin earned his bachelor’s degree from the College in 1964 and his master’s degree from the Annenberg School for Communications in 1965. He has built several successful businesses, and is now president and owner of Fine Arts Industries, one of the largest manufacturers of framed pictures in the United States. As president of the Penn Club of Colorado for more than 25 years and a volunteer for the University’s Alumni Interview Program for more than a decade, he has been active in raising Penn’s profile in his home state, welcoming faculty, coaches, teams and cultural groups to Colorado. He is also an active member of his class, serving on reunion committees and as co-chair of his 50th reunion.

In 1988, 1972 Penn Law graduate Paul Levy founded the private equity investment firm JLL Partners, Inc. after a successful career as an executive in the investment banking and fashion industry. He has continuously supported Penn as a strategist, philanthropist and motivator. He is an emeritus member of the Board of Trustees, a former Overseer of Penn Law and member of the Penn Medicine Board of Trustees. He was also a member of the Steering Committee for the University’s Making History Campaign and chaired Penn Law’s hugely successful Bold Ambitions Campaign from 2006 to 2012. Together with his wife Karen, he endowed the Levy Scholars program, helping to transform legal education at Penn and established the Levy Conference Center.  

William Mack, a 1961 Wharton School graduate, has had a successful career in the family commercial real estate firm the Mack Company, and in 2013 co-founded the Mack Real Estate Group with his sons, Richard and Stephen, both also Penn alums. He was a dedicated University Trustee since 1997, now emeritus, and served as Vice Chair of the Board in addition to chairing several committees, including the Facilities and Campus Planning Committee and the Making History Campaign Steering Committee. In addition, he has served on Penn’s Health System Trustee Board, and on its Executive Committee. With his wife Phyllis, he is a longtime supporter of the Institute for Contemporary Art and Wharton. In 2001, they established the Mack Center for Technological Innovation, and its transition to becoming the William and Phylllis Mack Institute for Innovation Management, with their newest leadership gift helping to establish the Institute’s new home, the Mack Pavilion.

While at Penn, Jayne Davis Perilstein, Wharton Class of 1980, founded Students Helping Students, a peer mentoring program, and she continues to honor Penn through a personal peer leadership model as an alum. She is a member of the Wharton Committee of the Alumni Affairs Mentor Program and co-chaired the Trustees’ Council of Penn Women, TCPW’s Philadelphia Regional Events and Programming Committees before becoming TPCW chair in 2012. She is a member of the Alumni Class Leadership Council, and currently serves as Class President and chair of both the Gift and Reunion Committees for the Class of 1980.   . She and her husband Ronald P. Perilstein, also Wharton Class of 1980, were partners in The Arjay Group, Inc., the insurance brokerage he founded, and she then ran an event planning firm before joining the Shoah Foundation in 2012.

Ehsan El-Tahry Zayan graduated from the College in 1973. A successful career in finance took her to New York, Cairo, London and beyond. Throughout her career and following her retirement, she has been active in Club activities and founded the Penn and Wharton Bermuda Alumni Association, when her job took her there in 1992. She has served on Penn Museum’s Board of Overseers and the Penn Alumni Board of Directors, and currently participates in the International Advisory Board of the Huntsman Program and the Trustees’ Council of Penn Women. Honoring Penn’s impact on her life, El-Tahry Zayan established two endowed scholarships: The Mac El Tahry Scholarship Fund and the M.M.A. Zayan/M. El-Tahry Memorial Endowed Scholarship named for family members.

Lauren Hedvat earned dual degrees in engineering and economics in 2005 and 2006 respectively before earning her master’s degree at the School of Engineering. She is currently capital markets director at Angel Oak Capital Advisors following positions at Deutsche Bank, Barclays Capital and Goldman Sachs. As a young alumna, she has continued to show leadership skills established at Penn serving on the Young Alumni Committee of the Penn Club of New York and chairing her fifth and 10th reunions, helping to achieve record-breaking attendance and winning the David N. Tyre Class Communications Award. Along with her siblings, she also created the Hedvat Ijadi Family Scholarship at Penn in 2012.

The Class of 1986 will receive the Class Award of Merit, its second win; the first was in 2011. This year’s win was for its remarkable outreach, leadership, creativity, teamwork, organization and innovative programming that led to exceptional results for its 30th reunion. The class strategy resulted in record-breaking attendance for the reunion of 421 alumni and reunion gift of nearly $6 million.

The Class of 1966 will receive the David N. Tyre Award for Excellence in Class Communications for its use of various platforms ranging from music and video to print and social media to connect with classmates about its 50th reunion. The campaign resulted in 328 attendees, and together members of the class gave more than $5 million across the University.

The Penn Alumni Club of Washington D.C. will receive the 2016 Club Award of Merit. This year the club attracted new members and engaged others through more than 40 creative events, including “a sneak peek” at the National Museum of African American History, hikes and happy hours, collaboration with affinity groups including PennGALA, representing lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender alumni, and the Black Alumni Society.

Story Photo