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Conservatory 50th Anniversary Celebration - Donor Dinner

Thursday, April 19, 2018
Conservatory 50th Anniversary Celebration Weekend - Donor Dinner, Webster Groves Campus

Good evening everyone, and thank you for joining us! We have a very special evening ahead, which kicks off an outstanding weekend as we celebrate 50 years of history, and shine the spotlight on Webster’s Conservatory of Theatre Arts’ future.  Tonight, and throughout this weekend, we will hear from, and in some cases see perform, the stars whose success rose from our Conservatory over the last half-century.

We will hear what the Conservatory has meant to those who have been touched by it. We will hear why it has inspired and shaped the lives of students and faculty alike. And we will gain a sense of how it continues to inspire us at Webster and in the broader community. This impact is only possible with the support of all of you here tonight. So I thank you for your continued support of Webster and the Conservatory.  Thanks to Opera Theatre for welcoming us to their space.

And truly, we would not be here tonight if not for the vision of a donor who believed in Webster, who was inspired by the spirit of the Sisters of Loretto.

Conrad Hilton is known for his global network of hotels, but he played a pivotal role in creating one of this university’s crown jewels, with the donation that made Webster’s Loretto-Hilton Center for the Performing Arts possible.

In preparing for this weekend, I looked at Webster’s archives to revisit Hilton’s remarks at the groundbreaking. His words speak to what moves us to such acts of mission-driven generosity:

  • “Throughout my career I have been participating in breaking ground for institutions in whose future I believe,” he said. “Perhaps a combination of belief and action is the indispensible ingredient of all great enterprises. We dream dreams, we invest in the future reality of those dreams, and we take steps to turn them into reality.”

We are here tonight celebrating the transformation of his dream into our reality.  Hundreds of success stories are returning to campus to reconvene, to commemorate a worthy dream realized, and to celebrate the future represented by the current and future students who will follow in their footsteps.  During his visit to campus for the groundbreaking, he also spoke of why he saw the potential for these ingredients here at Webster. I quote: “In the past 10 years the Sisters of Loretto and their students at Webster have become my spiritual stockholders. They have kept in touch with me…and I have developed a growing interest and faith in Webster’s future. I am proud to be a partner in this enterprise and will watch its growth with the same interest with which I have watched the growth of my hotels.

We have many people to welcome and thank tonight.  I want to thank Jinny Browning for being with us.  I am sure you recognize her as the namesake of the Virginia Jackson Browning mainstage in the Loretto Hilton, the location for this weekends’ Brigadoon and the Alumni Showcase.  I want to recognize members of the planning committee for this evening: Mickey Dwyer-Dobbin, Alice Sargent, John Nickel, David Weiss, and last but not least: our spectacular alumna, trustee and a great friend of Webster, Laura Herring. This weekend will be one we will never forget, and a major reason for that is Laura’s vision and work.  Laura, thank you. After all that planning, it’s finally show time! Everyone, please join me in welcoming Laura Herring.  Thank you, Peter. Thank you, Megan. What a moving evening this has been! Truly a terrific start to a special weekend.

I want to note that the City of Webster Groves has declared tomorrow, April 20, as Webster University Conservatory of Theatre Arts Day. That will be noted on the marquee outside City Hall and remind everyone in Webster Groves of what an integral part of the community the Conservatory continues to be.

As we close the evening, I want to return to one more thing Conrad Hilton said over 50 years ago as he visited campus in preparation for the Loretto-Hilton Center groundbreaking:

  • “There is at work at this college a spirit that breaks down narrow barriers, a spirit that encourages support, a spirit that creates the kind of wholesome vitality which I have witnessed in the past 24 hours. The performing arts center and the present and future students of Webster will have a special place in the Hilton International scene. I am proud to participate in breaking ground for an institution in which I believe.”

I can attest that I observed this wonderful spirit of support and vitality when I first arrived at Webster as president. The events and sentiments we’ve experienced tonight, and what’s to come this weekend, all attest that this spirit is alive and well at Webster.

Thanks to all of you. Have a wonderful, safe evening. I look forward to seeing many of you again this weekend!