Panoramic views from the 54th floor of World Trade Center 4 created a stunning backdrop for the BMCC Foundation 2014 Gala, Reaching for the Stars: The Next 50 Years at BMCC.
The Gala raised well over $1 million in donations, including $75,000 contributed the night of the event through a silent auction and pledges.
Film legend Robert De Niro, co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival, was the evening’s Special Guest Star Honoree.
A video of film clips highlighted Mr. De Niro’s groundbreaking roles in film classics like Taxi Driver as well as his more recent performances in movies such as the highly acclaimed Silver Linings Playbook.
Mr. De Niro is also a co-founder—with Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff—of the Tribeca Film Festival, which was created after 9/11 to help revitalize Lower Manhattan.
Ms. Rosenthal spoke at the Gala, introducing Mr. De Niro.
“Any inspiration we were really looking for we found in … the will to survive and the drive to excel in the courageous students at Borough of Manhattan Community College and their president Dr. Pérez,” she commented.
“What extraordinary examples these young men and women are. They come from 150 countries, many of them holding down more than one job … Tonight’s gala is titled ‘Reaching for the Stars’. And you know what? Every student at BMCC is a star.”
Mr. De Niro, she said, “may be a national treasure, an international star, but he’s really a local hero to those of us in Tribeca.”
A video tribute to Mr. De Niro featured Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City from 2002 to 2013; Ken Chenault, CEO of American Express, and Drew Nieporent, Mr. De Niro’s partner in two iconic Lower Manhattan restaurants: Tribeca Grill and Nobu.
BMCC Foundation scholars escorted Mr. De Niro to the stage and BMCC President Antonio Pérez presented him with the BMCC Award of Excellence.
“… I honestly don’t remember making any choices when it came to pitching in after 9/11,” Mr. De Niro said.
“We didn’t even think about it. Before the dust settled, we—that is Jane, Craig, many of you, the Borough of Manhattan Community College—we all pitched in to help, so it feels kind of odd to get an award for just reacting.”
BMCC, said Mr. De Niro, “makes our own section of New York a better place and starts the process for making a better world. I used to think the definition of a good neighbor was someone that kept the sidewalks clean … but it’s more. A good neighbor makes you proud of your neighborhood. BMCC, you are a great neighbor.”
Honoree Elizabeth Margaritas Butson
“BMCC bridges the economic and educational gap for many people who would not otherwise be able to access higher education,” said Jim Axelrod, CBS News anchor and the Gala’s Master of Ceremonies.
He welcomed BMCC Foundation Board Chair Christine Larsen to the stage, and she recognized the Gala co-chairs, BMCC Foundation Board members Sheldon Cohen, Theresa Clark Messer and Claudia McNamee.
Ms. Larsen announced the evening’s next Honoree, Elizabeth Margaritas Butson, who is known for her trailblazing career in photojournalism, advertising and publishing.
A video was screened, featuring Alex Butson, her son, and others including Michael Haberman, a former journalist of The Villager, a newspaper Ms. Butson and her late husband, Thomas Butson owned along with Downtown Express.
President Pérez presented the BMCC Award of Excellence to Ms. Butson “with deep appreciation for her dedicated leadership, friendship and heartfelt support of BMCC and its students.”
Honoree Kurt D. Woetzel
Aniko Delaney, Marketing Director at BNY Mellon Global Collateral Services introduced the next honoree, Kurt D. Woetzel.
“I am the luckiest person,” she said. “I have known and worked with Kurt Woetzel for more than a decade. I am proud that we are honoring him at BMCC and proud that he is so engaged by the BMCC mission.”
A tribute video in Mr. Woetzel’s honor featured Art Certosimo, CEO of Global Marketing at BNY Mellon; James Malgieri, Executive VP at Global Collateral Services and others.
President Pérez presented Mr. Woetzel with the Award of Excellence, thanking him for his “dedicated leadership at BNY Mellon and his stalwart support of education, diversity and Lower Manhattan.”
Three student stories
BMCC Foundation scholars circulated throughout the Gala, and three took the stage to share their stories of determination and success.
Abiola Arthur described moving to New York City from Trinidad. Now studying in the Early Childhood Education program at BMCC, she plans to transfer to City College, CUNY to pursue a bachelor’s degree in education.
“Trying to get into a school was not easy, due to limited funds,” she said, “but getting the BMCC Scholarship has given me a boost of confidence and the break I desperately needed.”
Science major Aned Gomez aspires to become a virologist or epidemiologist, and Ray Sukhu, who was born in Guyana, talked about his choice to earn an associate degree in nursing at BMCC while devoting ten hours a week to community service and working part time.
He accomplishes this, he told the audience of over 500 guests, while living with macular degeneration, an ocular disease that has not deterred his drive to continue his education and specialize one day in ophthalmology.
Text pledges and a unique view of Fiterman Hall
Taking out their phones, the Gala guests texted donation pledges displayed on large-screen monitors throughout the expansive 54th-floor space.
The evening, which had kicked off with a festive cocktail reception, followed with an elegant, white-table dinner featuring beef champignon and red wine from the Lechuza Founders Reserve—courtesy of BMCC friend and Derfner Foundation trustee Jay Lieberman.
Guests also enjoyed cups of Laughing Man Coffee, courtesy of BMCC Foundation Board Member David Steingard, co-owner of the popular Laughing Man Coffee & Tea in Lower Manhattan.
Sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline began to glitter as night fell and the Gala came to a close. Guests lingered at the windows and were treated to a unique view of BMCC’s Fiterman Hall, which was destroyed on 9/11, rebuilt and reopened in 2012.
In honor of the Gala, the spiral staircases of Fiterman Hall had been illuminated with lights that changed color periodically, showing off its unique design.