Sophia Lim, Section Editor
Money makes the world go round, but it also funds our Saint Martin’s students scholarships.
Saint Martin’s University hosts an annual gala as the largest fundraising event for student scholarships on campus. The event entails a sense of community, as donors, trustees, alumni, faculty, staff, and students all gather together in a single night to reinstate the university’s mission and highlight the ability that outside support provides in aiding students to pursue their college education. The 2019 Gala marks the 14th Gala that Saint Martin’s has hosted since 2005. Coming a long way from the first Gala, which was held at Great Wolf Lodge, this Gala was the ninth one to be held on our very own campus and with the celebrity chef format. From this change, participation of staff and students have increased allowing involvement to be even more open to the community.
As a Benedictine university, our institution is known to keep the benedictine values close in practice.
Genevieve Chan, Vice President of Marketing and Communications, who helped run the project shared, “The Saint Martin’s Gala is a celebration of the Benedictine values, derived from ‘The Rule of St. Benedict,’ that defines life here at Saint Martin’s.”
The three values that were highlighted and came to life that evening were as follows: hospitality, community, and stewardship. Hospitality referred to the warm and accepting welcome given to guests on our campus. With more than 300 volunteers made up of students, faculty, staff, and alumni, Saint Martin’s was more than hospitable in catering to the outside community that attended. In the aspect of community, everyone who has one tie or another to the university is a member, and have relationships with one another. Throughout the night, the breaking of bread, bonding, and nonstop sharing of chatter and friendship showcased the sense of community. As for stewardship, this is ultimately instituted by the donors themselves who contribute financial funds for the benefit of the students at large.
As Chan put, “The generosity of our donors provides more than assistance to our students; it also demonstrates the importance of caring for others. Inspired by their example, our students also become better stewards of their education, their future, and their world.”
This year’s celebrity chef host was Carla Hall, former co-host of ABC’s Emmy-award-winning show “The Chew” and competitor on Bravo’s “Top Chef” and “Top Chef: All Stars.” Hall radiated energy that seeped into the room, and had guests on their feet, dancing as she made her entrance. With her entourage of students in chef hats, she made her way to the stage, grooving along to the beat of the music and high-fiving the guests as she walked passed. Chan explains that each year, a theme is considered and set into place that consists of the elements of the university’s history that they want to highlight in that particular year. Before celebrity chefs are chosen as hosts for the event, their philanthropy is looked at to see if it coincides with Saint Martin’s standards of being strong supporters of education.
Chan then exemplifies this, “When we selected Ming Tsai, that was the year that we were celebrating Saint Martin’s twenty years of history of being actively engaged in programs and partnerships with different colleges in China. Next year we are celebrating our 125th anniversary. As a tribute to our namesake, St. Martin of Tours, we wanted a French theme and who better than Jacques Pepin, founder of the French Culinary Institute.”
Students hold a number of roles before, during, and after the event. Some of the duties they were tasked with included supporting the silent auction and registration, working as servers with Bon Appetit, serving as hosts to the celebrity chef, and most importantly, reminding donors and attendees that students are the direct beneficiaries of the funds being raised. Many of the student workers who were volunteering that night shared that this event was something they had been looking forward to.
“Fundraising for scholarships and meeting the donors who allowed me to pursue my dreams, what better way to spend a Saturday night?” shared senior Alex Gonzalez, who was one of the students that had the opportunity to work closely with the celebrity chef, Carla Hall, and RC, who was the MC.
Gonzalez had been volunteering for the Gala since his freshman year and states that he continues to do so because of the positive impact that is received by students and him personally, as he is a scholarship recipient himself. He adds on to say that the Gala is not solely about fundraising, but also fosters networking and getting to know the community as a whole, whether they are donors or not. Recounting some of his experience that night, he went on to share his favorite part.
“Chef Carla Hall is an amazing person and chef! She is as fun, relaxed, and real in the backstage with us as she was in the mainstage. Carla gave us so much great advice, told us stories about her career, and even sang to us while we waited for the dinner. She is now one of my favorite people!”
The excitement Gonzalez felt is understandable, because not everyone can say they have been serenaded by a celebrity chef.
Even student volunteers who were not able to interact with the chef, but helped run the show backstage, had positive reviews for the event. Kiara Muramaru, a third-year student, expressed that her favorite part of the evening was when students gathered in the middle to showcase to the guests and donors where the money they had spent was going. It gave a more personal connection, and more so, a face for these scholarship fundraisers. Muramaru handled the coat check shifts, which allowed her to speak to attendees as they entered in the beginning and left at the end of the night. This gave her the opportunity to socialize and speak to donors and other student volunteers, which she found rewarding in itself.
As for the guest speakers, the school searches among their very own student body or alumni. Stories that contain the presence of Saint Martin’s education and community significantly impacting a person are ones that are deemed fitting for the role. Most considered, a speaker usually touches base on the critical component of scholarships and how it affected their decision or ability to partake as a Saint Martin’s student. This year’s guest speaker was Ahmadou Seck, an alumn of 2011. He had expressed a very moving speech that resulted in the breakthrough of a record-setting $645,000 for the Feed-A-Mind scholarship funds. This year, the gala raised $1.4 million dollars, having raised over $1 million for five consecutive years.
Although the night is graced with five star culinary meals and live demos from the chef, for many, the most compelling part of the evening is the chosen student or alumni speaker who shares their story. This is followed with the Feed-a-Mind paddle raise. Chan refers to this part of the night as the heart of the event. As each paddle is held up in the air, students and community alike are able to witness the generosity of others firsthand. It is a reminder of why Saint Martin’s exists and the amount of support culminated towards its mission.