If the Olympics organizers are ever shopping for a special events expert, SMU VP of Development and External Affairs Brad Cheves should be their go-to-man.
For Friday’s announcement of the wallet-busting, $1.5B “SMU Ignited: Boldly Shaping Tomorrow” campaign, he and his team managed to pull off a mega launch utilizing the university’s iconic Dallas Hall as the backdrop for an over-the-top program lasting less than 30 minutes. But such an announcement needed a heckuva lot of hoopla in a short amount of time due to the high noon sun.
Perfectly erected in front of the 100+ year-old Hall, wrapped in red and blue colors, was a covered stage with two tiers of chairs for the VIP types, including Campaign Leadership Council members Mike Boone, Kelly Hoglund Compton, Bob Dedman Jr., Jerry Ford, Ray Hunt, David Miller, Caren Prothro and Carl Sewell Jr. plus Connie O’Neill, Kathy Crow, Clark Hunt, Kristin Henderson, Linda Custard, Fred Hegi and Jeanne Cox.
The Hall’s lawn was decked out with rows of white folding chairs directly facing the stage. On either side of the legions of chairs in shady areas were tents. The one on the left was for the picnic luncheon following the announcement; the one on the right accommodated a couple of dozen rows of white folding chairs. These shady spots would be primo locations making a big difference once the festivities got underway.
Around the perimeter were adorable SMU cheer squad members, Peruna with his handlers, “Human Peruna” who started kicking up his/her heels when the SMU Mustang Band played, and flag banners and balloons that scarcely moved in the still of the morning with the temperature already in the upper 80s.
Looking at the blue sky with white fluffy clouds staying in place, one SMU representative admitted that she would have been happier if the temperature had been 10 degrees cooler. But shoot! It wasn’t raining, and there was nary a tornado nor an ice storm in sight.
In the meantime, as the final sound checks were being made for a perfect presentation, a gaggle of VIP types was gathered in a big white tent behind Dallas Hall. But just as the clock ticked to 11:45, word was passed for them to make for the seating area for the big announcement. As the herd of guests headed around Dallas Hall, students passed nearby on their way from or to their noon classes.
Needless to say, the people-in-the-know headed to the little tented area. The accessories of the day turned out to be sunglasses with handout programs used as fans. One gent in the main row of seats had thought ahead and pulled out an umbrella to shield himself from the Texas sunshine. While some shed their jackets, many like Kevin Knox, Bill Custard, Andy Smith, Marvin Singleton, and Ken Malcolmson “manned up” keeping their ties and jackets in place. But the gals like SMU First Lady Gail O. Turner and Carolyn Miller showed their mustang spirit with red scarves topping their blue outfits.
While waiting for the noon start time, guests caught up on non-SMU activities. Monica Egert Smith was sporting a new accessory — an engagement ring that had been presented to her by Brent Christopher. They’re planning on a smallish wedding in March…When asked if the Dallas Symphony Orchestra Gala was definitely going to take place on Saturday, September 25, at the Meyerson, Gala Co-Chair Paul von Wupperfeld didn’t hesitate — “Absolutely!”.. Speaking of the DSO, word was making the rounds that former Maestro Jaap Van Zweden had announced his departure from the New York Philharmonic with the message, “It is not out of frustration, it’s not out of anger, it’s not out of a difficult situation. It’s just out of freedom.”
Just as the clock hit 12:02, the doors of Dallas Hall opened and the SMU Board Trustees, SMU President R. Gerald Turner and Brad proceeded down the Hall’s steps and up the steps to the stage to take their places.
In welcoming the group that had now grown to include SMU students, staff members and friends, Brad admitted that when he kicked off the previous campaign in 2008, he didn’t need bifocals. But times had changed, as had Brad’s need for glasses to introduce the people on stage and in the audience. He then introduced a video shown on huge screens on both sides of the stage that revealed the name of the new fundraising campaign: “SMU Ignite: Boldly Shaping Tomorrow.”
Following SMU Student Trustee Nia Kamau’s invocation, Turner took his place at the podium to review the previous two comprehensive campaigns — “A Time to Lead” in 2002, resulting in $542M raised, and “SMU Unbridled,” which raised $1.15B in 2015. He admitted that the one thing that had been constant during his tenure was, “There is always change. We’ve had plenty of it in the last 18 months. But one thing is clear, and that is the SMU family members always come together and they’ve always supported us from good times and bad times. Even in the great recession, when we’d just kicked off the second campaign, SMU supporters got us through that just as they have other difficult times.”
He then explained the purpose of the campaign was “to broaden our support of students, particularly those students that need more help to come here financially” and graduate.
To keep his comments brief, he explained that the plan for the campaign would be laid out in the weeks and months to come.
Getting down to numbers, he said that so far $645M had already been committed or given. He then announced the goal for “SMU Ignited” — $1.5B, to be used as an endowment. The response from the crowd was applause and cheers. He added, “It’s the largest goal of any private university in the history of Texas.”
In discussing the past campaign, he surprised some by reporting a third of the previous campaign’s gifts came from individuals who were not alums.
He also introduced the current Board Chair Bob Dedman Jr., who added a bit of humor to the day’s program by saying, “It’s been a privilege to come to SMU and visit my inheritance at work.”
Dedman then recognized landmark donations, like the $50M gift provided by Carolyn and David Miller for the SMU business school, as well as the $100M gift from the Moody Foundation for SMU graduate studies, that had taken place during his tenure.
Following another video, Dr. Turner returned to the podium to close the program, explaining the reason for the location of the announcement was, “So when you’re looking this way, you’ll see Dallas Hall. Not only is Dallas Hall beautiful and the symbol of the university that we all know, but Dallas Hall also represents the grandeur and the tremendous anticipation of quality that was expected by SMU President Robert S. Hyer when it … opened in 1915. He got a lot of criticism for spending so much money on one building. If he had built three or four we would have probably torn them down by now. But Dallas Hall is the symbol of the quality that was put into the very bones and foundation of this university. And that is reflected in all the things we do and how we continue to evolve over time. One thing we can assure you is that everything that will be done will be done first class. All the scholarship support, all the program support, we will be trying to do them as well as we possibly can. With your support, we’ll achieve that goal. Because together we want to make sure that we’re successful with ‘SMU Ignited: Boldly Shaping Tomorrow.’”
To punctuate his message, cannons along the front of the stage and on the side shot red and blue streamers high overhead to the delight of the crowd while the Mustang Band played, and the cheerleader and pom squads rallied guests to head to the picnic area.
And, once again, Brad Cheves gave a thumbs-up for his team, congratulating them on another event that was ignited indeed.