Saturday, Oct. 16 began a weekend of festivities paying honor toDillard Universities past, present and future. The first activityon the agenda was the sixth annual Avenue of the Oaks Gala.
The gala serves as a venue for alumni, corporate sponsors,faculty, students and friends of the university to gather andreflect on the accomplishments of those associated with theuniversity while raising money at the same time. Interim PresidentDr. Bettye Parker Smith explained the many purposes of theevent.
“The gala is one of our major fundraisers and an opportunity tohonor, particularly some of the alumni, who have gone off intotheir professions and show them off to you, the students,” saidParker-Smith. “It also gets the alumni back into the fold.”
Since its inception in 1999, Dillard has grossed more than $844million from corporate sponsors, alumni and friends of theuniversity. This year’s platinum sponsor was American Express.
The gala was also an opportunity for alumni to see each other,some of whom they have not seen since graduation. Filmmaker MatthewBroussard, class of 2001, was able to catch up with old friendsfrom Dillard.
“This is my first time coming to the gala,” said Broussard. “I’menjoying it because I get to see people I haven’t seen in awhile.”
With the goal of fundraising aside, the focus of the gala was tohonor leaders in the community, alumni and non-alums, and to allowfor students to see examples of the success that can be obtainedafter graduation.
The guests and honorees had a chance to interact with thestudents earlier in the day and during the gala. Erica Jones, asenior computer science major and treasurer of the StudentGovernment Association, used the gala to make connections withalumni.
“I feel fortunate that this opportunity was given to me,” saidJones. “I was able to meet some very interesting people.”
Anitra Brown, class of 1995, editor of the New Orleans Tribuneand former advisor to the Courtbouillon, thought it was anopportunity to take time to appreciate being an alumnus.
“I think this is a significant opportunity for the university,friends and alumni to take a moment and reflect on what the schoolhas done for us,” said Brown.
For students it was a chance to see the successes that pastDillard graduates have made.
“I think it’s great they get all of these people from Dillard thathave made something of themselves so that we can see,” said IsaiahStewart, a junior political science major from Vallejo, Calif.
The evening began with Master of Ceremonies, actor/comedianJonathan Slocumb, welcoming all in attendance with jokes. He wasfollowed by Dr. Bettye Parker Smith who gave her greetings to thespecial guests, one of whom was Ernest Gaines. University ChaplainGail Bowers delivered the invocation, which was then followed bydinner.
Guests dined on Louisiana seafood bisque, roulade of chicken,crab meat prawns wrapped in bacon, vegetables, potatoes, and a keylime pie with fresh berries, and listened to music before thepresentation of the Excellence and Heritage awards.
“It’s nice and very elegant. I’m glad I got a chance toexperience it before I graduated,” said Malana Joseph, a seniormass communication major and parliamentarian of the SGA.
The Excellence and Heritage awards are given out to graduatesand members of the community who have excelled in their chosenendeavors.
The first recipient of the night was Dr. RunetteFlowers-Williams. Dr. Flowers-Williams graduated Dillard in 1967and has since gone on to a successful career in medicine.
Flowers-Williams is the owner and president of South DekalbPediatrics, PC in Decatur, Ga. and a member of Who’s Who inAmerica. This Dillard alumna stressed the importance of alumnisupport, and to show her support of Dillard, Flowers-Williams plansto institute two scholarships for Dillard students.
One scholarship, valued at $25,000, will be given based onfinancial need, and the other scholarship, valued at $1,000, willbe given to a student pursuing a career in natural science.
Dr. Warren Jones graduated from Dillard in 1971 is the executivedirector of the Division of Medicaid in the Office of the Governorin Mississippi.
The retired United States Naval Captain has served posts aspresident and chair of the Board of Directors of the American ofFamily Physicians and chair of the Family Practice and Aerospaceand Military Medicine sections of the National Medical Associationand American Medical Association.
Jones acknowledged his respect for Dillard’s tradition ofexcellence by asking “How many lumps of coal will arrive onDillard’s doorstep and leave a potential diamond?” He thanked Dr.’sWilliam Sutton and Andrew Lacey for being role models to him whilehe was at Dillard.
Dr. Flowers-Williams and Dr. Jones serve as models of excellencefor Dillard students, which is part of the purpose of the gala, butthey were not the only ones honored.
The Honorable Maurice “Moon” Landrieu was honored for hisservice and commitment to excellence in the African-Americancommunity. Slocumb joked “Once you love blacks, you avoid heartattacks.” Landrieu fought against “hate bills” designed toreinstate segregation in public schools when he served in theLouisiana State House of Representatives. As mayor of New Orleanshe fought to ensure that city government and public facilities wereintegrated.
The last honoree was Joe Adams, the manager of the late RayCharles. Adams had a much decorated career before becoming themanager for his dear friend. Adams served as a Tuskegee Airmanbefore beginning a career in acting and radio. Adams is credited tobeing the driving force behind many lucrative endeavors forCharles, including the Pepsi Cola commercials, and encouragingCharles to donate $1 million to Dillard.
Each honoree was presented to the audience by a studentattending Dillard. These students made an impression on thehonorees affirming that Dillard is committed to cultivating alasting legacy of excellence.
“When I met [Jones’s presenter] Romell La’Dell Smith earliertoday I felt good because it told me that Dillard was doingsomething right by attracting him to Dillard,” said Jones.
The evening ended with the singing of the Alma Mater anddancing. Guests mingled, met the honorees and danced until it wastime to leave. The event grossed $103,600, which will be used forscholarships.
Special events and projects consultant Robert Bolton called theevent an absolute success.
“The gala provides an opportunity to bring alumni, corporatesponsors and friends of the university together to raise money forscholarships,” said Bolton.
Planning began on Monday, Oct. 18, for next year’s gala becauseit takes a long time to plan everything, according to MaureenLarkins, Director of University Communications and Relations.
Many in attendance will agree that all of the planning is wellworth it, and hopes it will continue to get better over theyears.
“I enjoyed it more this year than last year,” said Larkins. “Thehonorees were more interactive this year which provided morehumor.”