Eye on UMSL: Celebration song

Senior music major Alayna Epps performed Undine Smith Moore’s “Come Down Angels” in front of a packed ballroom during the University of Missouri–St. Louis’ 28th annual Founders Dinner at the Ritz-Carlton St. Louis.

Every fall since 1987, members of the University of Missouri–St. Louis have gathered to pay tribute to alumni, faculty and staff for their successes as well as contributions to and support of the university during the annual Founders Celebration.

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continuing to disrupt life, the 2021 Founders Celebration will look a bit different, but the spirit of the celebration remains strong ­– or stronger – than ever.

“The Founders Celebration is one of UMSL’s most valued events, and this year, we really wanted to showcase exactly what UMSL brings to St. Louis,” said Laura Blevins, director of UMSL Executive Events. “Our theme this year is centered around the Rise Up for St. Louis call to action. We want to show how UMSL is leading the way in fostering change, building inclusivity and elevating the region. It highlights the amazing people, the distinguished alumni and generous donors that have really impacted the university.”

During her inauguration earlier this year, Chancellor Kristin Sobolik announced “Rise Up for St. Louis” as an UMSL initiative that is focused on elevating UMSL’s partnerships to help drive the region forward while modeling and embracing inclusive prosperity. The university also is doubling down on its role as a leader in workforce development across the St. Louis region by providing high-quality, affordable education.

Blevins and the Executive Events team worked hard to imagine an event that would balance the dual needs of keeping attendees safe and maintaining the essence of the event.

To accomplish that, they settled on what Blevins describes as, essentially, two events: a large virtual celebration that will go live on Oct. 7 at 7 p.m. CST and a small in-person one. Express Scripts, the health care and insurance company, will be the presenting sponsor.

“The virtual event is very similar to last year,” she said. “We will highlight members of the UMSL giving societies as well as showcase videos from the Outstanding Young Alumni awardee, the Distinguished Alumni awardees and the E. Desmond and Mary Ann Lee Medal for Philanthropy recipients, George and Melissa Paz. The chancellor will also speak to the importance of UMSL, and the connections we share with our community friends and partners.”

Unlike past years, which have taken place at the Ritz-Carlton, this year’s in-person event will be held in the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center. It will be open only to honorees, their guests and a small number of university personnel.

Because of how reduced in number the in-person event will be, Blevins and others decided to forgo the traditional sit-down dinner for a different experience. Instead, there will be five interactive stations devoted to key UMSL initiatives that showcase how UMSL is leading the way to Rise Up for St. Louis.

Those will include themes such as Rise Up for St. Louis, a nursing simulation lab experience; Flipstick founder Akeem Shannon and UMSL Accelerate, and two others that are in development.

“We had to rethink how we’re going to do the in-person event,” Blevins said. “Then we wanted to think of a way that it would still be interesting for those tuning in virtually because we know that an in-person event streamed live doesn’t 100% translate. The most important thing is to highlight the mission of the university and the honorees.”

Funds raised through both the in-person and virtual event will benefit the Rise Up Scholarship.

For Blevins – and most others – the chance to help students through scholarships is the best part of the event.

“I love the fact that we’re raising money for scholarships,” she said. “This event is focused on what’s important, and that’s supporting students, and that’s why all of us are here, to support students and be a part of transforming their lives.”

Those interested in attending the virtual celebration can RSVP here.

Jessica Rogen

Jessica Rogen