Gilder Lehrman Institute Honors Ron Chernow, Drew Gilpin Faust, and Bob Niehaus at 25th Anniversary Gala

Ron Chernow with student speakers and performers at the 2019 Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History Gala

The Gilder Lehrman Institute held its 25th Anniversary Gala on Tuesday, May 14, 2019, at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York City.

In attendance were 300 friends of the Institute; students and teachers; and the evening’s three honorees, award-winning biographer Ron Chernow, President Emerita of Harvard University Drew Gilpin Faust, and Chairman and Founder of GCP Capital Partners LLC, Bob Niehaus. The event raised nearly $1,550,000 that will be used to support the Institute’s programming and resources.

Gilder Lehrman Institute founders Richard Gilder and Lewis E. Lehrman greeted guests outside the ballroom. The formal program began with words of welcome from Lewis Lehrman, who spoke about the teacher who inspired his passion for history. He went on to acknowledge the great contributions of the late Professor David Brion Davis to the work of the Institute. Mr. Lehrman finished with remarks about the path of immigration that has been one of the central tenets of American history. The assembled guests, seated at tables with a breathtaking view of Central Park and New York City, gave Mr. Lehrman a standing ovation.

Student Advisory Council member and Gala introductory speaker Angelee Gonzalez with Gilder Lehrman Trustee Luis A. Miranda, Jr.Next to take the podium was Fort Hamilton High School student (soon to be a freshman at Emerson College) Angelee Gonzalez to introduce Gilder Lehrman president Jim Basker. Professor Basker thanked the attending Gilder Lehrman trustees, including Annette Gordon-Reed, Andrew Banks, Victoria Phillips, and Tom Hirschfeld. Basker noted the reunion of the key players involved in the Hamilton Education Program, including Luis Miranda; Jeffrey Seller, Hamilton's producer; and Ron Chernow, the writer of the biography on which the musical is based. Professor Basker recognized the teachers in the audience who had been selected as History Teachers of the Year in addition to all the other teachers in the room, most from Gilder Lehrman Affiliate Schools. Pace University president Marvin Krislov was acknowledged for his leading role in partnering with the Insitute on The Pace–Gilder Lehrman MA in American History Program. Professor Basker explained to the audience that the seven student speakers for the evening, all members of the Gilder Lehrman Student Advisory Council, stood for the millions of students across the country that the Institute serves.

Student Advisory Council member Sebastian Lopez with honoree Bob NiehausFollowing a video highlighting the impact of and opportunities available through the Gilder Lehrman Institute, All Hallows High School student Sebastian Lopez introduced the first honoree of the evening, Bob Niehaus. Mr. Niehaus spoke of growing up in a family that valued American history and how that influenced his professional life as an investor who studied past markets and as a history enthusiast whose interests ranged from the Peloponnesian War to Chinese history. Introduced to the Gilder Lehrman Insitute by Lewis Lehrman, Mr. Niehaus was thrilled by the concept of original, exciting, and accessible primary source materials that Mr. Gilder and Mr. Lehrman were collecting and using as a basis for programs that eventually included the partnership with Hamilton, the musical. Mr. Niehaus ended his speech with a quote often attributed to W. B. Yeats: “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”

Student Advisory Council member Marsha Darbouze and President Emerita of Harvard University Drew Gilpin FaustMarsha Darbouze, a senior valedectorian at the Young Women’s Leadership School in the Bronx, introduced the next honoree, President Emerita of Harvard University, Professor Drew Gilpin Faust. Professor Faust, who has served on Gilder Lehrman book prize committees, led a Gilder Lehrman Teacher Seminar (“Women in the Civil War Era, 1848–1877”), and made extensive use of Gilder Lehrman resources for her own research, spoke about the ways in which studying history prepared her for being the president of a large and complex institution like Harvard. She spoke of history’s power to “release us from the confines of our individual lives” to think about how things might have been and how history documents contingency and agency, as opposed to inevitability. In reference to the decline in the study of history (with the percentage of students majoring in history falling significantly recently), she suggested that civil rights activist Nannie Burroughs’s phrase “Education is democracy’s life insurance” could be rephrased, “History is democracy’s life insurance.”

Student Advisory Council members Chancy Marsh and Delila HasicChancy Marsh, a junior at Cristo Rey New York High School, and Delila Hasic, a junior at Townsend Harris High School, took the stage to play a history game with the gala guests. Following this interactive, entertaining, and educational experience, Andi Grene, a junior at the High School of American Studies at Lehman College in the Bronx introduced Ron Chernow.

Student Advisory Council member Andi Grene with Ron ChernowAt the podium, Ron Chernow referred to himself as the marriage broker for the Hamilton Education Program, having brought the musical and the Institute together through his involvement with both. He was “thrilled to report that the musical and education program have prospered and spawned many progeny across the country.” He attested that the EduHam student matinees are always his favorite to attend as the students never fail to impress him with how connected they are to the story of the country’s founding. Having written about the men and women who founded the United States and having received many awards and accolades for doing so, Mr. Chernow remarked: “I always feel smarter after reading the Founders.” Chernow referenced Gore Vidal, who said that American history is so dramatic that “you have to work to make it boring.” President Basker noted that Chernow’s 2004 biography Hamilton won the first George Washington Book Prize. sponsored by the Institute, Washington College, and George Washington’s Mt. Vernon.

Liara Torres performs her original song written for the Hamilton Education ProgramNear the close of the gala, two student performers took the stage to present their original pieces created for the Hamilton Education Program. Liara Torres sang and accompanied herself on guitar for a moving song about Abigail Adams, and Errol Ramsammy rapped cleverly about Benjamin Franklin. Kenny Wong, a Stuyvesant High School student and current intern in the Gilder Lehrman Education Department, gave the evening’s closing remarks, thanking the guests and inviting them back for the next Gilder Lehrman Gala, in 2020.