John Jay College’s 50th anniversary Educating for Justice Gala on May 19 honored an award-winning TV actress and activist, an alumnus and familiar entrepreneurial icon, and a foundation with a long track record of supporting social-justice causes.
Roughly 350 friends and benefactors of John Jay were on hand for the Gala, with preliminary figures showing that more than $700,000 was raised. “The evening was a wonderful success,” noted President Jeremy Travis, “with proceeds from the Educating for Justice Gala earmarked for the John Jay Honors Program and student scholarships.”
The Gala honorees were alumnus Jim McCann (B.S., ’75), the founder and CEO of 1-800-Flowers.com; the Ford Foundation, and Mariska Hargitay, star of the long-running series “Law & Order: SVU” and founder of the Joyful Heart Foundation.
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McCann was a freshly minted John Jay graduate, alternately working as a juvenile case worker, bartender and home remodeler, when he got an unexpected opportunity to go into the flower business. Through good fortune and business acumen he parlayed that opportunity into what would become 1-800-Flowers, which today is the world’s leading online flower-and-gift retailer. His success has allowed him to become a philanthropic fixture in the Greater New York area.
McCann thanked the College for having given him a second chance at higher education. “John Jay had an enormous impact on my life,” he said, paying special tribute to his former professor Blanche Wiesen Cook, who he said “taught me to think outside the box.” Cook, now a University Distinguished Professor of History and Women’s Studies, was McCann’s special guest at the Gala.
The Gala also honored the Ford Foundation with a Global Leadership Award for being “visionaries on the front lines of change.” The award was accepted by Doug Wood, the Ford Foundation’s program officer for higher education issues, with an emphasis on the needs of students from poor and marginalized communities in the United States.
Hargitay was inspired by her work on Law & Order to create Joyful Heart, whose mission is to heal, educate and empower survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse. In introducing the honoree, John Jay College Foundation Trustee Peter Beshar credited the Law & Order franchise with helping John Jay “to attract the very best students and recruit the very best faculty.”
SVU frequently does location shoots on the John Jay campus, prompting Hargitay to note in her acceptance remarks, “I feel like I’m enrolled in this school by association.”
“I am so grateful for the young people that John Jay has sent and continues to send out into the world,” she said. “God knows we need them.” She called on attendees to continue to be fierce advocates for justice, “to be bold and dig deep into the hard topics. . . to be the brave ones that represent those whose voices have been compromised in society, for whatever reason.”