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MIAMI/SOUTH FLORIDA On Saturday, Fort Lauderdale’s St. Thomas Aquinas High School commemorated its 75th anniversary with a nearly six-hour celebration at the Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa in Hollywood. The event received ample funding from members of the school’s foundation board, alumni, and parents, who either served as sponsors—sponsorship opportunities ranged from $11,000 to $10,000, in addition to individual $300 and $200 seats—or underwriters of the upscale production.
The coed, college-preparatory school, which ranks among the top 50 Roman Catholic schools in the country and has more than 2,000 students, hired logistics pro Donald Braun’s namesake firm to oversee the gala, attended by 750 guests. It was one of four large events tied to the school’s anniversary. A celebrity golf tournament, an auction, and an alumni celebration—N.F.L. player Michael Irvin, tennis pro Chris Evert, and actor Billy Crudup are all notable graduates—will follow in 2011.
According to Sister John Norton, coordinator of special events at St. Thomas Aquinas High School, the gala was nearly “the biggest event in the school’s history,” second only to a dinner with dancing that marked the institution’s 50 years. “We tried to reach out to as many people as possible by sending invites four to five weeks prior to the event,” said Norton. “We wanted to really celebrate the fact that a lot of families in the community who have been educated here have been very successful and very happy with their lives.”
Parents in particular showed their willingness to “honor the past, embrace the present, envision the future"—a phrase written on the invitations—by funding some of the event's most memorable production elements. One such parent, Guilherme Silva, who heads broadcast media company CIS Group and has two sons at the school, produced, directed, and funded a 15-minute 3-D video presented during the dinner program. The animated video, which highlighted the school’s academic, athletic, and arts programs, was narrated by students and shot on campus using 3-D cameras. Similarly, parents at Bacardi and Southern Wine & Spirits of America donated the hard liquor and wine, respectively, while yet another parent at the school helped book Jane Krakowski of NBC’s 30 Rock to sing during the dinner program through her relationship with Broadway Across America. (The Jerry Wayne Orchestra played toward the end of the evening, from 10 p.m. until midnight.)
Braun hired several different vendors and used items such as plexiglass, beaded crystals, chandeliers, sheer silver draping, and sequins to bring the gala committee’s vision of sparkle to fruition over the six months of planning that led to the event (including two full days of setup). “One of the gala co-chairs [who is also a parent] likes things really sparkly,” said Braun, “so all of the tables have those reflective elements.”
Guests parted with a souvenir: a bottle of Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon with the tag “aged to perfection.”