Against a backdrop of fine cuisine, hot jazz and an unbeatable cause, Elmhurst College’s fifth annual Evening for Scholarships benefit raised a record-breaking $320,000 to fund student scholarships, underscoring the College’s mission to make an Elmhurst education accessible to all of its students.
About 270 guests attended the March 15 event, which clipped along at a lively pace thanks to CBS 2 News anchor Rob Johnson, who served as emcee. A live auction and performances by Elmhurst College’s Vocal Jazz Ensemble and Jazz Combo contributed to the atmosphere.
But Elmhurst students—their achievements, their stories, their goals—were the heart of the event. Thirty students met and greeted guests at the start of the evening, and many later joined them for the dinner. Students also were the featured speakers, sharing their personal stories about the opportunities Elmhurst has provided them, and what their scholarships have enabled them to achieve.
“The Evening for Scholarships is a critical source of scholarship funding for our students,” said Joe Emmick, vice president for development and alumni relations. “With that support our students can flourish here, academically and personally, under a lighter financial burden.”
Scholarships are a significant source of support for Elmhurst students—96 percent of all students enrolled at Elmhurst in the 2012-2013 academic year received some form of financial aid. Last year’s event raised $300,000, of which 92 percent went directly to supporting scholarships.
President S. Alan Ray noted that donor support, not only at the Evening for Scholarships event but throughout the year, makes all the difference for many financially stressed Elmhurst students.
“There is no greater need on this campus than scholarships,” he said. “Generous support ensures that none of our students has to leave Elmhurst College for financial reasons. That support makes a visible and a lasting difference in the lives of our young people.”
As a saxophonist in the renowned Elmhurst College Jazz Band, Shelley Bishop has played for ardent audiences around the world. With deep sincerity, the Australian-born student told guests, “Elmhurst College has certainly changed my life.”
Bishop, a senior, recalled her high school years in Brisbane, Australia, and the memorable impression made by Music Professor Judy Grimes, director of the Elmhurst College Wind Ensemble, during visits to her school.
“I still remember how excited I was, waiting for the Elmhurst College students to play with my high school band,” Bishop said. “From then on, Judy became someone I looked up to and, eventually, my mentor. I would email her to ask how everything was over in America. She would always tell me to keep practicing, and maybe one day I could visit Elmhurst College to experience life in an American school.”
Attending Elmhurst College would not have been possible for Bishop without a scholarship. With her family 7,000 miles away, it’s been difficult at times these past four years to support herself. But the decision to attend Elmhurst was “the best choice I have ever made,” she said.
“I am so thankful for everyone who has played a role in my education here,” she said. “I am forever grateful for the scholarship I have received and for the generosity of those who have made it possible for me to study in America.”
Then the auction got off to a gallop as Keith Jones of Sayre & Jones Auctioneers cajoled bidders, sat on laps and pounded his gavel. Sales for vacation getaways to New Mexico and British Columbia, fine dining experiences, a cruise and sports tickets to the hottest teams in town netted $38,000. The live auction ended on a high note with the Fund-A-Scholarship portion, which raised an additional $37,000.
After the auction, Elmhurst graduates—and twins—Mike and Matt Gragnani recalled how difficult it was for their parents to afford a college education times two. Elmhurst was one of the brothers’ top choices because of its close-knit yet diverse learning community, small class sizes and beautiful campus, as well as the caring professors and coaches, and the opportunity to compete on the football field.
“Never in our wildest dreams did we think affording an education of this caliber would be possible, but it was, through the generosity of donors like the Siragusa family,” Mike Gragnani said. “Because of them, we were able to begin our Elmhurst Experience.”
For the brothers, that included participating in three Habitat for Humanity service learning trips, securing coveted internships, and spending their senior year in Rome.
“It’s incredible to take a step back and see how much we were able to experience and accomplish together in such a short amount of time,” Matt Gragnani said. “None of it would have been possible without the tremendous support system that we received at Elmhurst. We have developed friendships that will last a lifetime with peers, professors and administration alike.”
BMO Harris Bank, Wirtz Beverage Group and Chartwells were the leading sponsors for this year’s Evening for Scholarships. Elmhurst College Trustee Virginia “Gina” Prochaska ’88 and her husband, Joe Prochaska, served as chairs of the event.
“Our chairs provided excellent and thoughtful leadership throughout the planning of this event, and the entire committee worked hard to encourage attendance, secure sponsorships, in-kind gifts and auction items, and to make sure in every other way possible that we would have a wonderful evening,” Emmick said.