Leslie Odom Jr. performs at 125th Gala

Jacob WaringOnline Editor

The 125th Anniversary Gala, the first Gala the school has ever hosted, featured a performance by Tony award winning Leslie Odom Jr. while also raising donations in support for the SCSU Food Insecurity fund.

The $134,000 that was donated will go towards establishing an on-campus student food pantry and social service center.

President Joe Bertolino said it was an important night for the school and it was a superb way to end the 125th festivities that have been occurring in the past year and a half. According to Bertolino there was a great need to provide students with support.

“What we have found is that thirty percent of our students are food insecure here at Southern,” Bertolino said. “A lot of times students need help with everything from food to rent, to books and childcare, to all those things. Longer term, we hope this will help provide support to students in all those areas.”

Odom was happily surprised to know that the Gala was soliciting donations to combat food insecurity on campus. According to Odom it made his day better to know his presence helped contribute to such a meaningful cause.

“I didn’t know that part of it. I knew we were here to celebrate the 125th birthday of the university,” Odom said. “Permanent food pantry – I feel even better now.”

The Hamilton star said he felt like he and the university were members of the same tribe due to their shared pursuit of social justice.

“To be here to help you guys celebrate the work that you do here, the students that go here, there’s nowhere I rather be,” he said.

Later in the evening, there was a moderated talk hosted by Stuart Robinson, Odom’s acting coach and his father-in-law.

Proceeding the moderating chat was a performance by Odom himself where he sang some of his favorite songs. One of them of course being Hamilton classic, “Wait For It.”

The man who originated the role of Aaron Burr was not the only one who performed at the Gala. Members of the Crescent Players performed select songs from Pippin. The Lyman Center will be showing the musical starting October 11. One of the selected songs performed was the show’s opening number, “Magic To Do”. Business management major, Zaneta Nicholson, a senior who played Leading Player in the musical said she felt the anxiety of performing in such a setting.

“I’ll admit that it was a little nerve wracking. Just being in a room with people with just high prestige,” she said. “Once I hit the stage [and] felt the stage lights, I got back into my natural element. It is a great honor to perform for the Gala.”

Many of the Crescent Players were beyond thrilled to be able to get to see, who some considered, a Broadway legend perform in real life. Some like Theater major, Matthew Lopes, a senior said he was looking forward to seeing Odom talk.

“I am excited for that, aside from being here to promote our own show ‘Pippin’, I am definitely staying to see his performance,” Lopes said.

“I am very, very interested in whatever he has for us tonight.”

What Odom had in store for those in attendance was endless humor, stories of his life, theater advice and more during both his moderated talk and his performance.

One of the more serious moments was a discussion surrounding a moment before Hamilton took off that Odom almost bowed out of acting. Robinson at the time wanted to see him try before throwing in the towel.

Robinson was asked to repeat his advice for the benefit of those listening at the Gala and he obliged.

You may think you’re trying, but are you really? You’re great when someone calls you with an opportunity. You’re great when you pulled a job or have an audition,” Robinson said. “But, what did you do today to further your career? Who did you call today? What did you read today? What did you practice today?”

The crux of Robinson’s point, he said, is that you may think that you are trying, but maybe you are not trying hard enough or doing enough. That piece of advice Odom said was what allowed his career to reach new heights.

In between all the fun, music and food was President Bertolino reminding everyone to donate to the Food Insecurity fund. He told people to text a number to donate or fill out a form if their phone is not an option for any reason. Many of that night’s sponsors made generous donations according to the brochures on each table.

Judite Vamvakides associate vice president of alumni and donor engagement said that the larger vision is goes beyond a food pantry and is also, to provide services for those students in need.

According to Vamvakides she worked with the team to put on the Gala.
“I oversaw a team, really that whole Gala,” Vamvakides said. Vamvakides said she gave a lot of credit to Michelle Johnston, director of donor relations and advancement events.

Johnston said that the Gala was one of the biggest events held this semester and the elaborate nature with the lighting and the setup made it more special. She said she does not know when another would be held, unless there’s a need or a cause that requires one.

“This was the first [Gala] that we ever done,” she said, “We’ll see.”

Photo credit: Jacob Waring

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