By RON LAJOIE
As the 400-plus guests ate their beef tenderloin or pan-seared grouper at the 33rd Annual Inner-City Scholarship Fund (ICSF) Award Dinner honoring Peter Grauer at Manhattan's Mandarin Oriental Hotel, the pledges they were simultaneously texting were projected on two large screens on each side of the dais.
Master of ceremonies Mo Rocca told the guests this was one time they could "text" at the dinner table and not be committing a social faux pas. By the time they had settled into their desserts, Richard Cashin, co-chair of the program, came to the podium to inform them that they had already raised almost $1.6 million that evening, including $70,000 in text pledges toward the ICSF's Emergency Tuition Assistance account. The account helps families when they face unexpected financial crisis.
But the donation that got the biggest ovation of the night Dec. 8 was a comparatively modest gift of $1,000 raised by the eighth-grade students of Resurrection School in Rye. Archbishop Dolan presented the surprise check to Grauer, president of the Inner-City Scholarship Fund's Board of Trustees.
"This morning I had the joy of being at Resurrection Catholic School in Rye," Archbishop Dolan explained. "Now those who are more familiar with the geography of New York would know that Resurrection grade school is hardly one of our inner-city schools. As I was meeting with all the students, two eighth-graders (Brian Degen and Matthew Lantin) came up and said, 'Archbishop Dolan, we love Resurrection and we are happy to be here. But we wanted to do something for you. We've heard Cardinal Egan and you speak about inner-city schools, so we had a car wash about six weeks ago on a Saturday and we raised $1,000 and we'd like to give it to inner-city schools.' "
"You see," the archbishop said, "the hope you are giving is contagious."
The Inner-City Scholarship Fund supports more than 38,000 students in 105 inner-city Catholic schools in Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island. Ninety percent of the students are from minority backgrounds, 32 percent are non-Catholic and 98 percent of them graduate from high school, with 96 percent going on to college.
Three of those students were at the dinner to thank Grauer and the Inner-City Scholarship Fund. Marcial Mulero, a senior at Msgr. Scanlan High School in the Bronx and editor of his school's newspaper, The Crusader, presented Grauer with a copy of the paper and lobbied for an eventual internship with Bloomberg L.P., the financial media company Grauer chairs.
"I've already learned so much about writing, leadership, deadlines and self-discipline, good skills to bring to an entry-level job at Bloomberg, I'll bet," he said to supportive applause.
Janelly Rodriguez, a sixth-grader at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs School in Manhattan and a budding horticulturalist, presented the Grauers with a potted plant she had grown. Janiya Scriven, a second-grader at Mt. Carmel-Holy Rosary in East Harlem, showed her skill on the violin by playing a spirited rendition of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star."
In accepting his award, Grauer, president of ICSF since 2003, explained why the fund is so important to him personally and to the city.
"There are very practical reasons why the ICSF occupies a significant part of my life," he said. "The children in our schools not only bring great energy, intellect and commitment, they are the citizens and workforce of New York City tomorrow."
He spoke about a visit he made to Aquinas High School, a girls' school in the Bronx, last fall. "Sixty-nine percent of the students come from families who earn less than $26,000 a year. I had the opportunity to sit down with about 20 young ladies to discuss their plans for college and their careers," he said. "With poise and confidence each shook my hand, made direct eye contact and shared their dreams. Their aspirations were lofty and well-suited to the challenges ahead. We work every day to a higher purpose. We change lives."