First of all, a big thank you to Stephen, everyone at DonorsChoose.org and the Gates Foundation for their efforts on behalf of students in need. As readers here are doubtless aware, Stephen sits on the board of DonorsChoose.org, and it was great to attend an event showcasing this wonderful organization. We’d also like to extend an extra “thank you” to Alex for inviting us to the big announcement; the new media representatives were out in force.
As noted in the press release, the event took place at the Manhattan Bridges High School and opened with Principal Mirza Sanchez Medina introducing panelists Charles Best (Founder and CEO, DonorsChoose.org), Vicki L. Phillips (director of education, Gates Foundation) and Elizabeth Smith (teacher, Manhattan Bridges High School). Stephen Colbert made his big appearance immediately afterward, high-fiving the students seated on the risers set up on stage behind his desk, which was adorned with a cup of pencils, a shiny red apple and a “Mr. Colbert” nameplate.
Stephen opened with some anecdotes from his days as a “huge loser” of a high school student. He noted that he spent a large portion of it being stuffed into lockers and, when there were no lockers available, being stuffed into walls. Poor Stephen! He went on to explain, however, that there were two things that had gotten him through high school: books and friends. In that spirit, he was happy to announce that DonorsChoose.org had made a very good friend in the form of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which had invested in a $4.1 million grant to support over 17,000 classroom projects.
In response to Stephen’s questions, Charles Best and Vicki Phillips discussed the origins, reach and advantages of DonorsChoose.org. They explained that the funding was used for books, field trips, art supplies and other materials that benefitted students in every state while allowing donors to see exactly how their money was being used and providing donors with feedback from the students. For example, Elizabeth Smith requested funding for classroom copies of Kaffir Boy in one instance and for materials required in a Saturday morning college prep course in another. In each case, she said, she received the materials within a matter of weeks.
Stephen then switched gears and mentioned his own foundation, the Stephen and Melinda Gates Foundation, asking Ms. Phillips, “Does Bill Gates ever talk about me?” After the ensuing laughter died down, she replied that he probably had after Stephen’s most recent mention of Mr. Gates.
At this point, Stephen opened the floor for questions from the audience members (teachers and students). Most of these were directed at the panelists, centering on how to write the project requests for DonorsChoose.org or what type of projects were eligible, but one senior asked Stephen how the resources that DonorsChoose.org and the Gates Foundation were providing could have helped Stephen when he was in high school ” … 100 years ago.” Stephen laughed and talked briefly about his school in South Carolina before saying generally, “It would have helped me out in so many ways. I’m sorry I can’t be more specific, but it would have helped in so many ways.”
When the press was allowed to ask a few questions, I took the opportunity to ask Stephen the following: “Your show has done special episodes devoted to subjects like women, the home, etc. in the past. Are there any plans to do a special episode on education in general or DonorsChoose.org in particular?” Two things: (1) I flat out forgot that Stephen has already done a special episode devoted to education (and he reminded me of this, very nicely), and (2) I don’t really mind that I forgot, because it gave him the opportunity to talk about how his show has highlighted education in the past.
He enthusiastically recounted the tale of how Craig Newmark introduced him (Stephen) to DonorsChoose.org; it had happened during Stephen’s presidential campaign, when Newmark wanted to donate to Stephen’s “war chest”. Stephen refused the donation due to federal election rules (“as [he] wasn’t in jail yet and didn’t want to be”) and, in discussing an alternative donation, Newmark mentioned DonorsChoose.org. Thus began the friendship between Stephen and DonorsChoose.org. The Colbert Report featured two straw polls through DonorsChoose.org, one during Stephen’s short-lived presidential run in South Carolina and one between the major parties’ candidates at the time of the Philadelphia primaries. Stephen also “teased” us with a mention of another upcoming DonorsChoose.org feature.
There were a few more questions directed at the panelists and responses that we may post later but, for now, enjoy this additional photo of Stephen. Thanks again, everyone!
(Photos by Kinaesthesia)