Striving for excellence, these three alums will be honored with Outstanding Alumnae Awards at Homecoming 2019. Though their paths have taken them far and wide, Mount Saint Mary’s University is never far from their minds and hearts.
By Sarah Scopio
“Conducting choral music is like being a sculptor with sound, rather than clay,” says Mary Breden ’73. “It’s finding a perfect blend of voices — that one perfect voice within the multitude of voices.”
Breden has dedicated her life to choral music. After 46 years of teaching, 27 as Director of Choral Activities and Chair of the Department of Music, at Loyola Marymount University, she retired in August 2019. At Homecoming, she will be awarded the Outstanding Alumnae Award for Professional Achievement.
As an undergrad at the Mount, she majored in piano performance, and both sang and accompanied the Mount chorus, conducted by famous choral director Paul Salamunovich. He also conducted the Loyola Marymount choirs. Breden accompanied the choruses at both the Mount and Loyola for nine years, which she says, “taught me how to think as a choral conductor.”
“However, never did it occur to me that one day I would be the one who would follow Paul at LMU,” she says. Breden began working at LMU in 1992, a year after Salamunovich had left to direct the L.A. Master Chorale.
Breden made her own mark on the choral program by creating international concert tours. Over the last ten years, the LMU choruses performed in Italy, Germany, Austria, France, and England.
She has many favorite memories from her overseas travels. “On our first trip, we had the opportunity to perform a private program in the Sistine Chapel after it had closed to public,” she says. “It was a remarkable experience to sing in the chapel. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.”
On the 2015 trip to France, she also arranged a private singing opportunity. “We were able to sing the National Anthem at the American Cemetery in Normandy as we looked out over the entire cemetery,” she says. “This was also a very emotional experience.”
Her final performance with the LMU Choruses was this past June in the church of Notre Dame d’auteuil in Paris. They performed Maurice Duruflé’s “Requiem.” Duruflé is one of her favorite French composers. The church organist, whom she had previously met on her first France tour, had been an organ student of Duruflé’s wife. “To have such a personal connection to both the composer and his wife, and to perform this music in this place, was extraordinary!” she says.
As she reflects back over her career, Breden is thankful for the opportunity to have spent her life creating such a beautiful expression of art.
“When a choir sings, you are reaching something deep in the human psyche through the art form so that the singers can then share these sensitivities with their audiences,” she says. “Giving of themselves through this art form makes the world a better place. I didn’t make them all musicians, but alumni tell me that being a part of the choir improved the quality of their life. I can’t think of anything else I would have preferred to do as my life’s mission.”
Suzanne (Weber) Hoffman ’84 believes in being an advocate, a mentor and a role model. It’s something, she says, she learned at the Mount.
“What I learned from the Sisters of St. Joseph – the advancement of women, embracing diversity, creating a network – is something I apply every day in my work, to ensure employees are reaching their fullest potential,” says Hoffman, who is currently senior director for defense systems supply chain at The Boeing Company. “But it’s the same advice and encouragement I give to Mount students.”
“I believe in giving back,” she says. “I think I’ve been able to achieve what I’ve had professionally because of the foundation the Mount provided.”
Hoffman has given back to the University in a multitude of ways, and at Homecoming she will be awarded the Outstanding Alumnae Award for Service to the University.
She began by joining the Alumnae Association upon graduation, and later served as board president from 2014–2018. As a board member, she participates in the annual Board phone-a-thon, supports the Mount Day of Giving and the annual Senior Farewell Dinner.
Part of her desire to contribute to the Mount comes from her family legacy. Hoffman is from a long line of Mount graduates: two aunts, her mother, her sisters, a niece, and one of her daughters all graduated from the University. “My sisters set the example of staying connected to the University,” she says. “They have also served on the board and hosted several Mount gatherings.”
Her desire to do more also led her to start the Weber Family Endowment Fund and the Weber Family Expendable Scholarship with her family.
The financial hardship of college is something that’s very personal to her. “I went to the Mount on financial aid and California state scholarships,” she says. “Especially now, with many students working several jobs, trying to stay in school is a challenge. Even a little bit might make the difference in being able to sign up for another semester. I believe in a Mount education. I believe it can unlock unlimited potential in a person.”
Through her connection with The Boeing Company, Hoffman also applied for and received a $5,000 grant on behalf of the Mount’s Student Ambassador Program through the Employees Community Fund of Boeing, a community engagement initiative run by the aerospace company. “The Boeing Company prioritizes diversity, community engagement, and the advancement of women,” says Hoffman. “The Ambassador Program was a natural fit for the community fund grant.”
Most of all, she believes in giving back to Mount students. “I tell them to take chances, to get out of their comfort zone and to not say no to an opportunity, because you never know where it is going to lead,” she says.
“Right now at the University, we might have the next person who cures cancer or solves world hunger, or we might have the most compassionate teacher or a nurse the world has ever seen,” she says. “It’s just amazing to me what the students do now. They truly are unstoppable.”
Naomi Miguel may hold hearings at the United States Capital, but her Mount education is never far from her mind.
“I can trace my career path directly back to my undergraduate research methods class taught by Dr. Helen Boutrous,” says Naomi Miguel, Ba’ag Nei’dam O’ks (Eagle Singing Woman), ’09. “I wanted to do a project on voter turnout rates in tribal communities, but there was no data. That was the first time I saw the lack of academic data in tribal communities.”
Fast-forward ten years, and today Miguel is a Professional Staff for the House Committee on National Resources, Subcommittee for Indigenous People for Chairman Raúl M. Grijalva in the House of Representatives. She will be awarded the Rising Star Award at Homecoming.
She still keeps in touch with her former professor and mentor. “The last time I emailed Dr. Boutrous was to let her know I helped to add two amendments to the Violence Against Women Act for Native American women and children,” she said. “I wrote, ‘I helped pass two amendments to a major piece of legislation on the House floor!’”
Though she celebrates her recent success, she realizes that policy change is a very slow process. “Change takes a long time,” says Miguel, who is from the Tohono O’odham Nation. “My current work involves holding oversight, investigative and legislative hearings about the health and wellbeing of Native American people, and reviewing large pieces of legislation to include Indigenous peoples. By being at the table, I’m able to be a voice for native people.”
Miguel finds it comical that as an undergrad, she never thought about working on Capitol Hill. “I thought I was going to be a lawyer!” she says. When law school didn’t work out, she took her first step into politics, working as a field organizer for Arizona’s Congressional District One campaign. After that a friend told her about a position at the Tribal Law and Policy Institute in Los Angeles, where she worked for six years.
At that job, she began to experience the power of legislation and policy decisions. One project for the Attorney General’s Task Force on American Indian/Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence involved listening to children’s stories and figuring out how to turn those stories into a policy position. This is what gave her the motivation to pursue her Master’s in Public Administration and Policy from American University in Washington, D.C.
“Every aspect of my career has prepared me for where I am,” she says. “Even that year of law school came in handy when I was negotiating with the Judiciary Committee over amendments to the Violence Against Women Act.”
While she is happy with her current role, Miguel does admit that a run for Congress might be in her future.
“There are many issues in the Native American community, and change is going to take a while,” she says. “But I’m an optimistic person, and I’m in it for the long run.”