Founders Gala transforms JCP

Biannual Gala raises $1,295,675 through auctions and direct donations


Elisabeth Smith | Associate Editor | USD Vista

Kelly Kennedy | Managing Editor | USD Vista


The University of San Diego held its fifth Founders Gala last week, hosting over 600 guests and raising funds for student scholarships. Since the event fell on Veterans Day, USD paid special tribute to both current and alumni student-veterans. In total, the event raised $1,295,675.

The attendees spent between $500 and $750 each for a ticket to the Gala, with the more expensive option giving them access to an exclusive VIP lounge before the event with President James T. Harris.


The night started off in the plaza outside of the Jenny Craig Pavilion (JCP). Dressed in tuxedos and ballgowns, guests pulled up to the circle and valeted their cars. The plaza was unrecognizable with a blue carpet at the entrance that led into a tent full of silent auction prizes, open bars, and waiters carrying hors d’oeuvres complete with iPads identifying the dishes.


Outside of the tent, guests mingled among space heaters and entered a raffle to win a Ferrari. Inside the JCP there were more hors d’oeuvres and a Swarovski Sparkle Station where guests could draw a number and receive a crystal key chain, bracelet, or candleholder along with Swarovski Glitter boxes for $500 each.


In the crowd of ballgowns and tuxedos were students who were working the event — escorting VIP guests, helping with food service, manning the silent auction, or assisting with coat check. Many of the students working the event are part of Alcalá Club, a service organization that works with President Harris as official representatives of the university.


Senior Ellie McCaw is the President of Alcalá Club. McCaw worked with President Harris for the first half of the evening, assisting him with scheduling and attending the different receptions with him.


“When working with Dr. Harris I had the opportunity of attending the VIP Reception and was able to talk with some potential donors who wanted to hear a student’s perspective of the event,” McCaw said. “As someone who relies on scholarship to attend USD, I was happy to share my experience regarding the impact scholarship has had on me by allowing me to attend such an incredible university. I felt honored to interact with those who make education at USD a possibility for so many, and what an experience it was being surrounded by so many people who care so deeply for our students.”


After a cocktail hour complete with a silent auction, a two-person colonial band played a drum and flute and marched down the stairs onto the court. As the guests filed down the stairs into the JCP, some were unaware that they were on a court. The floor was covered by rubber mats, and false walls created a new dining area with three large screens at the front and a large chandelier at the center.


The actual ceremony was hosted by Dorothy Lucey, a USD parent and former entertainment reporter. Lucey was accompanied by a video presentation that played on the screens behind her. Veteran students, ROTC students, and civilian students who have benefitted from Founders Gala donations were featured in the videos thanking the donors for their contributions and introducing other speakers.


While the night was advertised as an event dedicated to honoring veterans and celebrating Veterans Day, the military influence seemed to be more of a side theme. The dinner portion of the evening opened with a presentation of the flags by the USD Color Guard and featured a Prisoner of War/Missing in Action (POW/MIA) table at the entrance to the event, but the POW/MIA table was removed after everyone sat down for dinner to make room for the after-party.


Student Veteran, Junior Nick Kowalski was excited that the Gala emphasized supporting student veterans. “As a student veteran, I enjoy hearing about events, such as the gala, which help support veterans who take a non-traditional approach to college,” Kowalski said. “I would have liked to see more veterans attend the gala.  The event, however, was not for veterans as much as it was for the community.”


One of the most recognizable donors of the night was Darlene Shiley, representing her late husband Donald Shiley and the Shiley Foundation. Shiley’s name can be seen throughout campus at the School of Engineering, the science building, and Shiley Theatre.


Shiley did not spare any expense at the Gala. She generously donated to the Fund-a-Torero Veteran as well as bought a 10-person table for members of her foundation.


“I love this university; I wish that I would have been able to go here, but there were dinosaurs roaming the earth when I went to college and they weren’t open here yet,” Shiley said. “I think it’s a wonderful school. I think the values-based education they talk about is something that my late husband and I first heard when Art Hughes was president and gave a speech… I went up to Art in the middle of the evening and I said, ‘My husband and I would like to fund a scholarship.’ It was $25,000 or something like that, and over the years the university presented itself in such a way that we felt it was worth supporting.”


Shiley wants to see her donations go toward bettering education as well as focusing on senior issues such as senior housing and Alzheimer’s Research.


“Working on senior issues is important to me right now and continuing with education,” Shiley said. “Because Don and I came from very poor backgrounds, if it wasn’t for education I’d be still living in the projects and he’d still be picking fruit in Oregon. So, God bless education, it’s very important.”


Overall, the night proved to be very lucrative for the university and added a lot of funds to the new Veteran Scholarship Fund.