USD Founders Gala to honor veterans

The 2015 Founders Gala Live Auction offered prizes such as Swarvoski Glitterboxes and all-access passes to USD basketball

The biannual Founders Gala falls on Veterans Day this year, and USD is paying tribute to veterans at the event

Celina Tebor | Feature Editor | USD Vista

The biannual Founders Gala is known for its black-tie dress and auctions with pricey prizes, but this year the Gala is incorporating a new element. Unlike previous years, it falls on Veterans Day. To pay tribute to the University of San Diego’s student-veterans, the Gala is dedicating part of its night to those who have served in the military.


The Gala includes silent and live auctions, a VIP lounge, dinner, and more. Through the auctions and other donations, it raises money to support student scholarships. In 2015, the Gala raised over $685,000 according to the USD marketing/Founders Gala website. While the Gala aims to support all students, this year it is taking some extra steps to honor veterans.


Amanda Etter, Veterans Student Services Coordinator at USD, explained why USD is using their fundraising to support student-veteran efforts.


“Because [the Gala] falls on Veteran’s Day, they’re going to be starting a specific endowed scholarship for student-veterans on campus,” Etter said.


This funding will go directly toward student-veterans. Additionally, the Gala is having a ‘Fund-A-Torero Veteran’ event, which is a paddle-raise auction that provides direct philanthropic support to student veterans.


The Gala is honoring military traditions to showcase the culture of veterans and the military. Etter acted as a source for the Gala to help provide these traditions.


“Our ROTC color guard is going to be there to present the colors,” Etter said. “They will also have a table set up for our P.O.W. (Prisoners of War) and M.I.A. (Missing in Action), that’s a tradition in the military for when events happen. It’s a good recognition for those fallen.”


Etter was happy with the university’s willingness to incorporate military traditions into the event.


“I think they’re doing a really good job of representing what we want to see,” Etter said. “As a veteran myself, the P.O.W./M.I.A. table is exactly how it should be, and they’re really relying on us to help advise on that.”


Additionally, the Gala will highlight student-veterans in videos throughout the night, and some will be attending the event as well. Etter expressed that she believes student veterans bring value to the USD community and should be recognized for their work.


“We have seven or eight veterans that are on our Associated Students board,” Etter said. “They come with a lot of experience and things like that to be able to add value to those conversations.”


Senior Johnny Chinchilla is one of the students that the event will highlight. Chinchilla is the Finance Chair in Associated Students and manages $1.2 million of student-activity fees. He became the president of the Student Veteran Organization (SVO) during his second year at USD, and was in the Marine Corps for 12 years with four combat deployments before he started at USD.


Chinchilla wanted to use his opportunity at the Gala to speak for those who cannot.


“My story is a story that a lot of veterans have experienced, and are not here to talk about it, or they don’t have the platform to tell their story,” Chinchilla said.

Funds from the auctions in the Founders Gala go to general student scholarships. However, this year there will be a special fund that goes to student-veterans.

Chinchilla also wanted to set an example for USD student-veterans.


“I feel like it’s my obligation to be an example and to encourage other student-veterans to stay involved in school and be active,” Chinchilla said. “Doing these activities is how I got selected to be in the Gala. Through my time in Marine Corps, through my combat deployment, and now being in higher education at USD, that was for me a bigger reason to represent my community well.”


Chinchilla will be escorting Major General William M. Matz Jr. (retired), the event’s honorary chair at the Gala. Matz received his Master’s degree from the University of San Diego in 1973.


Etter explained why Matz was chosen to represent the USD veteran community.


“He enrolled at USD in 1972, when the nation was in transition,” Etter said. “He was wounded in war. He’s a distinguished service cross, silver star, and purple heart, so he has kind of that war hero aspect.”


While the Gala is saluting veterans worldwide, San Diego has a strong connection to the military, more specifically, the USD community.


Chinchilla expressed the importance of the military in San Diego.


“San Diego is one of the biggest cities that veterans occupy,” Chinchilla said. “As far as bases and training facilities, we are one of the largest in the nation. And USD is right in the middle of that.”


The university itself embodies the military connections that the city holds, and is named one of the best school in the country for veterans by U.S. News & World Report.


Etter laid out the numbers of USD’s military-connected student population. Military connected means students are veterans, in ROTC, or are children of veterans receiving benefits from their parents.


“As of right now, the military-connected student population is 8.6 percent of student body,” Etter said. “That’s a significant population, and with the school still as young as it is working with the military-connected population, it’s going to be growing. In the last two years, we’ve grown by 30 percent, so it’s expected to increase.”


Chinchilla believes the university took initiative to acknowledge USD’s large military-connected population at the Gala.


“I don’t think that student-veterans realize how important it is to be a part of the community, like the one here at USD,” Chinchilla said. “And also I don’t think a lot of the student body understands how unique we are. And USD embracing [us] demonstrates how USD has understood the importance of supporting the veteran community in San Diego.”


Etter offered advice on how students and faculty can support the veteran and military-connected community at USD.


“Students, to pay respects, can just be aware of the culture, just like any other culture on campus,” Etter said. “Veterans don’t always just want to be recognized as a veteran, they want to be recognized as an individual. Being a veteran is just a part of who they are. So like any other culture on campus, I want to kind of support that.”

Chinchilla expressed that  students not in ROTC or not attending the Gala can still honor the veteran community even with thoughts.


“On Veterans Day, reflect on what you have,” Chinchilla said. “Reflect on the privileges we all have being at USD, and know that many don’t have those privileges. Being grateful for what we all have is important.”


On Nov. 11, the biannual Founders Gala will be recognizing the veteran community for its services. Students walking on campus in uniform every week inform the campus community

of its large military-connected population, but the Gala’s support of veterans remind students of the sacrifices that have been made to protect the nation.