I stole a menu

I stole a menu

Last night the Barnard Annual Gala raised 2.2 million dollars for financial aid. Bwog sent Diligent Debutante Maud Rozee to find out how that was even possible.

The Plaza Hotel is possibly the fanciest venue in New York City, and last night it was filled with impeccably dressed, mostly old, white and incredibly rich Barnard fans. I entered the pre-Gala cocktail party at 6 sharp, and it’s safe to say I felt a little out of place. I didn’t know anyone there, and the people I did meet kept asking me “what table are you at?” (I write for Bwog…I don’t have a table) and “is this your first Gala?” (yes… is it obvious?!). Even Debora Spar seemed unfamiliar, looking 534,245 times hotter than usual in a black velvet cocktail dress with a ruffle on the front. I estimate that D and Mr Spar must have air-kissed more than 300 cheeks, out of the 420 in attendance.

Eventually, I started to channel Eloise and enjoy the party. I made friends with the four Barnard students in the room, who were all there either because their mentors had invited them, or they worked for Financial Aid or Spec. I heard a woman nonchalantly remark to her husband that “they probably won’t have any better wine at the bar”, so I nabbed a glass of chardonnay from a waiter, along with some tasty hors d’oeuvres made of duck, lobster and caviar.  I chatted with an elegant Barnard who had majored in linguistics and could tell I was Canadian just by talking to me.  An old man with a cane walked past me and said, “Nice outfit. It looks good from the back.” He told me he was looking for his wife. He was still looking for her when he made the same remark about the front of my outfit on his way back.

I also stole one of the tealight wrappers

I also stole one of the tealight wrappers

I followed DSpar up to the ball room, which was filled with tables adorned with flowers and tea lights. The decor for the night relied heavily on the Barnard magnolia. Sometimes I worry about what will happen to Barnard’s branding when that tree dies. Chair of the Board of Trustees Jolyene Caruso-Fitzgerald ’81, Gala Co-Chairs Nina Rennert Davidson ’95 and Cheryl Glicker Milstein ’82, and of course President Debora L Spar welcomed and thanked everyone, and did a lot of bragging about Barnard’s recent record-breaking admissions season.

The Barnard Video Team knocked it out of the park with two video presentations honoring the recipients of the Frederick A.P. Barnard Award,  Connie ’53 and Harvey Krueger and the Krueger family, and  Claire and Leonard Tow, Emily Tow Jackson ’88, and the Tow Foundation. Suffice it to say that we laughed, we definitely cried, and both videos were followed by standing ovations.

As I stood musing about the dissonance between the Gala’s extravagance and its aim to make Barnard more welcoming to underprivileged students, disaster struck. Sun Min, Barnard’s Media Relations Director, rushed up to me and Jill, the Spec reporter, shocked. “The NYPD just called me. There’s a bomb at Barnard. I have to tell DSpar.” (I’m almost positive I heard Sun call her DSpar). Soon President Spar and Dean Hinkson were gathered with other Barnard officials whom I didn’t recognize, speaking in hushed voices and making phone calls. Everyone kept asking Jill and I if we had gotten the emergency text messages (oops). AHinks prepared to leave. Luckily, it was quickly determined that the NYPD had given the all clear, and DSpar sighed “That was two years off my life!”  She mimed hyperventilating and joked “This dress is too tight!” before calmly making an announcement to the room about the excitement back in Morningside Heights.

To regain my cool, I took a trip to the bathroom and ran into the old man with the cane again. He exclaimed “You again! Alone at last!” I laughed, and began to fear that “I’m looking for my wife” had been a proposition…

As the charity auction approached, the room was darkened for a video about financial aid at Barnard. Footage of Obama at Barnard’s graduation talking about the need for women to “reach back” and mentor other women was interspersed with footage of students meeting the women who had donated their scholarships. Grateful and eloquent Barnard financial aid recipients told us how, as daughters of immigrants or single parent families, it was crucial that Barnard meet their financial needs. I was about to have a cynical thought about the slight World Vision vibe to the video when I spotted a friend among the clips. I was suddenly touched by the generosity of some of the people in the room. I teared up a little and was glad I hadn’t drunk too much.

I made puppy dog eyes at the desserts that were brought out next, but no Barnard donors seemed to notice. Then Sotheby’s auctioneer Benjamin Doller took the stage. He joked that Barnard had given him more statistics to read than any other charity auction he’d ever done, reminded us that the donations were tax deductable, and off we went. He started with bids for $100,000 donations. I have never been so aware of where my hands were before in my life. He got three bids, one by a man who left with his wife immediately after paying, like a boss. Then he took pledges for 50, 25, 10, 5 and 1 thousand dollars. (I was pretty tempted to YOLO it and donate a couple thou, but I restrained myself). There was a loud collective gasp when Doller reminded us that Barnard’s yearly tuition is $57, 312. The auction raised $ 522, 000, which, added to ticket sales at $ 1, 250 per person, brought the night’s total to a cool 2.2 million dollars so far.

After that, all that was left to do was head downstairs to the after party, which had a DJ, dance floor and open bar. DSpar told me and my star-struck friends that if we were lucky, we would dance next to Diana Vagelos, who apparently is an animal on the dance floor. On my way there, I was glad to spot the old man with the cane at the coat check, next to his actual wife. Then I hit the dance floor, relieved that I was surrounded by people whose dance moves were just as bad as mine (except for Debora and Mr Spar, who were, this is not a joke, tangoing).  As I danced to Ke$ha’s Tik Tok, free beer in hand, next to Dean Hinkson and my new friends, I realized that the Barnard Annual Gala had turned out to be a pretty sweet night.