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Wednesday, December 1, 2021

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President’s Service Award honorees Ben and Nikki Clay receive a pewter plate gift from SDSU President Elliot Hirshman. (Photo credit: Frank Villalpando, diFranco Photo) President’s Service Award honorees Ben and Nikki Clay receive a pewter plate gift from SDSU President Elliot Hirshman. (Photo credit: Frank Villalpando, diFranco Photo)

Service Award Presented to the Clays

President Elliot Hirshman honored Ben and Nikki Clay with the SDSU President’s Service Award.
By Natalia Elko

Ben and Nikki Clay were honored today with the San Diego State University President’s Service Award. President Elliot Hirshman recognized the couple’s outstanding contributions to public service in the community, as well as their steadfast support of SDSU.

The event was hosted by Hirshman who presented Ben, ’69, and Nikki, ’67 and ’72, with a pewter plate from the 1915 Panama-California Exposition — what is now Balboa Park. The gift is close to the Clays’ hearts as they are co-chairs of the Balboa Park Centennial 2015.

“The president’s service award honors extraordinary community service and I am very pleased to honor Ben and Nikki Clay,” Hirshman said. “They have supported dozens of deserving students through scholarships, are supporters of student veterans and were cornerstone supporters of the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center. They have chosen to make their mark in the San Diego community and, for that, we are very grateful.”

About Ben and Nikki Clay

Ben and Nikki, who met at SDSU while serving on the student government’s finance committee, have been monumental in supporting student success and university advancement. Nikki has been president of the Alumni Association Board of Advisors and is in her second term on The Campanile Foundation Board of Directors. Ben is on the SDSU Public Affairs Advisory Board.

They have two scholarships — The Ben and Nikki Clay Scholarship in Public Affairs and The Ben and Nikki Clay Presidential Scholarship for SDSU Merit Scholars — and have contributed to several other scholarships and endowments that support student veterans, hospitality and tourism management as well as the SDSU BRIDGES program.

Kristin Bala, a recipient of the Ben and Nikki Clay Presidential Scholarship, is majoring in cellular and molecular biology and plans to attend medical school. At the ceremony, Bala spoke about how the Clays’ scholarship has impacted her life and helped her achieve her goals.

“I am pursuing my dream of going to medical school to become a doctor in the Navy. I largely attribute my success to the scholarship and support the Clays’ have given me,” Bala said. “The Clays’ not only envision a better society, they take action to see that it happens. They have given me hope to turn my dream into a reality.”

Beyond their commitment to SDSU, Ben and Nikki are on several boards of directors in the San Diego community including the Old Globe Theatre, the Holiday Bowl, the San Diego Symphony, the Downtown San Diego Partnership and the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Accepting the award, Ben said, “Nikki and I are humbled and honored. We are so proud of Kristin’s trajectory and that we were able to help her achieve her goals.”

Nikki said, “SDSU is in our DNA. We are Aztecs for Life. I’ve loved every minute of being involved at this university and Ben and I are thrilled to see the success of the Campaign for SDSU and the recognition the university is receiving.”

Distinguished speakers and guests

Emceeing the event was former City Manager Jack McGrory, a member of The Campanile Foundation Board of Directors and chair of its government and community relations committee. McGrory is also a past recipient of the award.

Distinguished guests included Congresswoman Susan Davis and Councilmember Marti Emerald.

Also in attendance were the Clays’ son, Jonathan Clay, an SDSU alumnus, and a 2013-2014 Clay Scholarship recipient Abdullah Khalil.

About the award

First presented in 2001, the award is given to individuals who are dedicated to community service and are promoters of higher education. The 2013 President’s Service awardee was former City Councilmember and Chief Executive Officer of the San Diego-Imperial Counties chapter of the American Red Cross Tony Young. Past honorees have included former Mayor Jerry Sanders and former State Senators Christine Kehoe and Denise Ducheny.