If the President’s Ball was anything, it was lavish.
The ball, the first of its kind, was held to honor the cr?me de la cr?me of GW donors: those who had donated more than $100,000 during this fiscal year. It flaunted GW pride with buff and blue linens, video montages and gifts of George Washington cuff links and pins.
Black-tie adorned guests were treated to entrées of pavé of beef crusted with mild pepper berries, spinach polenta and an airy fondue of vegetables. The Radio King Orchestra played big-band music for the few couples that braved overstuffed stomachs and boogied across the dance floor. In classic celebratory elegance, six open bars served the specialty drink of the night – champagne cocktail with applejack cognac and sherbet.
Besides grandeur and lavishness, gratitude was the theme of the first annual ball held on Thursday, the night before University President Steven Knapp’s inauguration ceremony.
“We can’t just draw water from the well endlessly,” said benefactor James F. Humphreys, a 1978 law graduate, using a metaphor from his hometown in West Virginia. “We’ve got to put some back in.”
GW’s endowment fund pales in comparison to other market basket universities, with an alumni giving rate of about 11 percent. Nearby schools, Georgetown and American, run at 29 and 20 percent respectively. As president, Knapp has vowed to increase alumni relations and GW’s endowment. It came as little surprise that the donor-appreciation event was held in tandem to Knapp’s inauguration.
Donor events have been held in the past but not to the scale of this year’s ball, development officials said.. Catering and music estimates alone ran upwards of $80,000, without the cost of renting the prestigious National Building Museum. The event appeared to run contrary to Knapp’s promises to minimize GW’s renowned excess spending. However, many University officials called the night a solid investment in GW’s future.
Besides hosting 487 major donors, the Board of Trustee members, vice presidents, and faculty and staff this year’s ball was also the first to include a new level of giving called the L’Enfant Circle, for donors who have given more than $5 million to GW. Next year, the University hopes to induct a new circle for donors who have given at the $10 million dollar level.
Master of ceremonies and GW Welling fellow Marvin Kalb started the night off joking that he already knew how newspapers would portray the ball.
“We’re here to celebrate you,” Kalb said, “your spirit, your pride and the undeniable excellence of George Washington University.”
Knapp spoke briefly at the beginning of the ceremonies, thanking his family and friends from Johns Hopkins University, including Johns Hopkins President William Brody, for coming to the event. He also encouraged the donors to come to the inauguration ceremonies. His vision for continued alumni relations at GW seemed shared by the guests, who greeted his stage presence with a standing ovation.
For the evening’s entertainment, several Presidential Arts Scholars, the GW Pitches and GW Bhangra performed. Many speakers – such as benefactors, alumni, administrators and faculty – spoke of concrete results achieved from donor contributions.
As the event wound down and guests enjoyed drinks from the cappuccino bar and miniature pastries, many said the ball was a hit, heralding in a new era with class and grandeur.
“The University does good events, and this was certainly one of the more opulent” said David Berz, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1970 and law degree in 1973. His son is a current student, and he said he has high expectations for Knapp’s tenure.
“I want it to keep going in the direction it’s going in,” Berz said. “Trachtenberg did a great job. The (endowment) graph is almost vertical, and I’d like to see it continue with Knapp.”