The University of St. Thomas raised over $1.5 million and set a record attendance of 720 guests at its 70th Mardi Gras gala on Feb. 22 at the Hilton-Americas.
“I’d like to think that having Gladys Knight there helped [raise attendance], and it probably did,” Director of Marketing and Communications Jeff Olsen said. “But, I think we’ve seen a trend at the University here with event [attendance] growing in size.”
Olsen also attributes that growth to changes the University has been undergoing recently, like a surge in enrollment which results in more students needing financial assistance. He said this is generating a higher turnout at UST events where people can donate money because they want to help students.
The gala evening began with an invocation by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo; then UST President Richard Ludwick spoke, emphasizing the University’s growth. After, the evening’s honorary guest, UST Board Member and President of the European Research Council Mauro Ferarri gave a speech that ended in his rendition of “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong.
Students of the Mardi Gras court then entered in a second line circling around the room to the tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In” played by Bunk Johnson Brazz Band.
Guests enjoyed dinner and dessert while pictures of past Mardi Gras galas showed on screens around the room. Meanwhile, a silent auction that included high-priced jewelry, a Toyota Center suite for an Elton John concert and several European vacations brought in donations.
Rhythm and Blues singer Gladys Knight performed songs like “Heard it through the Grapevine” and a cover of Sam Smith’s “Stay with Me.” Dancing on the dance floor and Blue Bell Mardi Gras king cake ice cream ended the night.