Re-Cap of 2022 Horatio Alger Awards Ceremony and Events

What follows is a journal type re-cap of my experience not only as a recipient of the Horatio Alger Award, but my interactions with other award winners as well.

Upon landing in the Washington, D.C. area we grabbed our luggage, and then took a taxi to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on 22nd Street in Georgetown which is the location of the Horatio Alger event each year.  Horatio Alger always has a separate room to check in, so we saw many of the other members and staff there.

We unpacked and got organized.  Then we went downstairs to one of the rooms in the hotel, where we took a covid test, a requirement to go to the Supreme Court on Thursday night.  We both passed, i.e., were covid free.  Then we met with one of the hosts of the event, who went over the schedule with us.

An Evening of Grace & Gratitude

We changed into business attire and took the bus to the National Cathedral.  Diane and I love the National Cathedral.  When we lived in D.C., we would sometimes attend church there rather than the more convenient St. John’s Church near our apartment.  At the National Cathedral we had an “Evening of Grace & Gratitude.”  There were about 180 attendees.  We started with a reception with two harpists providing music.  They played songs from Phantom of the Opera, “Hallelujah” and more.  Diane and I saw many of the members we had met over the three years we had been attending.

Horatio Alger 2022 Evening of Grace & Gratitude

The sanctuary was set up with two long tables, seats on both sides, and large candelabra lighting the tables.  There were about fifty people on each side of the two tables.  They stretched the length of the sanctuary.  The candelabra were quite tall.  Diane and I sat with Ambassador Barbara Barrett, former Ambassador to Finland, and her husband Craig.  Both are members.  Barbara is Vice President of Horatio Alger.  Across from us was Horatio Alger President Greg Abel and his wife Andrea.  Next to me was Horatio Alger Scholarship Recipient Colonel (Retired) Vance Cryer and his wife Julia.

2022 Horatio Alger Awards

We had a five-course meal:  scallops, beet tartar with goat cheese, veal with pastry, cheese course, and baked Alaska for dessert.  Cassandra Maria Surianello sang “America, The Beautiful” (backed up with a slide show of vistas of the U.S.) and “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”  I didn’t realize but “Battle Hymn of the Republic” was written to the song “John Brown’s Body” by the abolitionist writer Julia Ward Howe.

Cassandra Marie Surianello

Howe wrote her lyrics to the music of the song “John Brown’s Body” in November 1861 and first published them in The Atlantic Monthly in February 1862.  The song links the judgment of the wicked at the end of the age (through allusions to biblical passages such as Isaiah 63:1–6 and Revelation 14:14–19) with the American Civil War.

Record Setting Donations for College Education

We honored Tom Selleck with the Norman Vincent Peale Award.  He gave an inspirational speech.  He has done a lot for the Horatio Alger Association, and has spent a lot of time with the Scholars.  In fact, one Scholar gave Tom a book, which included all of the pictures he had taken with various Scholars and included their notes of thanks to him.  This year we raised $17 million versus a goal of $15 million, which will be given to youth in need for their college education.  Most of the Scholars will be first in their families to attend university.  Tom’s wife of 35 years and two daughters attended the event and were introduced.

Remembering Members Who Have Passed

We also honored the fifty or so members and life partners who had passed away since our last event:  Hank Aaron, Bob Dole, Lou Brock, Tom Haggai (who I worked with when at P&G, Tom ran the Independent Grocers Association), Ross Perot, T. Boone Pickens, Don Shula, Colin Powell, Rafer Johnson, Kenny Rogers, and more.  One of the members who passed away last year was Walter Scott.  Walter and I worked together to build a new VA hospital in Omaha.  Walter and his friends like Warren Buffett were willing to put up the money.  I was pushing private-public partnerships like this.  But I had to get a special law passed by Congress to allow me to accept the private money.  Congress didn’t want to give up their control over the VA or me, the control they hold by providing the budget.  Diane and I had a spectacular evening.  We loved being back in the National Cathedral.

Thursday morning Diane and I slept in until before 10 a.m.  I went to the fitness center in the hotel to exercise.  Newspapers were delivered to our room.  I read them while riding the bike.  Diane and I enjoy newspapers, but don’t get them delivered since we travel so much and live in two different locations.  Diane injured her ankle in Orlando and was unable to exercise.  We went down to the hotel restaurant, West End, to eat lunch.  We worked in our room.  I had a call with Todd Browne about Association of Graduates business.

Member Visit to the Supreme Court

After 2 p.m. Diane and I joined the new members and life partners on the bus to the Supreme Court.  Diane and I sat with new member Herschel Walker (Heisman Trophy from the University of Georgia, Dallas Cowboys) and his wife en route.  We had dinner with them at the Horatio Alger event in Palm Beach.  Herschel and I talked about his campaign to be elected Senator in Georgia.  As is usually the case in my experience, the media makes political candidates out to be caricatures of themselves.  None of us are as bad as the political competition or media make us appear.

Horatio Alger Justice Thomas

Each year Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, a Horatio Alger member, hosts the award ceremony at the Supreme Court.  This is a tradition started by Chief Justice Renquist years ago, grandfathered as the only non-law event in the court itself, and continued by Justice Thomas.  We began with a reception.  Then the new members had a picture taken with Justice Thomas.  I was assigned to sit next to him.  Then we went into the court, where Justice Thomas put the Horatio Alger medal around our neck.  Again, none of us fit the caricature the media paints.  It was a solemn ceremony, and Justice Thomas was a gracious host.

Member Visit to the Building Museum

From there we went by bus to the Building Museum.  Diane and I had taken the grandchildren there one Easter for some activities.  It is a beautiful building built after the Civil War for pensioners and veterans.  The new members were called on stage one-by-one, and a video was shown of their accomplishments.  I was first.

Bob McDonald Horatio Alger Award

While backstage I talked to many of the new members.  I found Jane Seymour’s story interesting.  Her father was a doctor in the RAF, who was part of the liberation group of Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp.  Her mother was Dutch and was put in a camp by the Japanese when they invaded Indonesia.  When I asked her favorite role, she mentioned her role in Herman Wouk’s War and Remembrance because she had her parents go with her when she filmed the scenes at Auschwitz.  Another interesting new member is David Thompson, one of the largest truck dealers in the U.S.  He is a Vietnam veteran.  He asked lots of questions about West Point, and I invited him to visit.  Finally, my friend and new member Steve Reinemund, former Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo and Dean of Wake Forest Business School, was unable to make the induction because of a family death.  The last time I saw Steve, a Naval Academy graduate and former Marine, was when he asked me to speak at the opening of his new business school building at Wake Forest.

We had a four-course dinner:  white cauliflower pots, prawns, short rib, and mocha cake with pistachio ice cream.  After dinner The Tenors, three tenors from Canada, performed.  They performed at Palm Beach as well.  They sang “Time to Say Goodbye,” “Sweet Caroline,” and more.  Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who was Prime Minister when we lived in Toronto, was seated in front of us.  You can see his head in one of the attached pictures.

Friday morning, we were up at 6:30 a.m. to exercise in the fitness center of the hotel.  While I was exercising I read the newspapers.  I was surprised to see on the back page of the first section of the Washington Post an ad that announced the Horatio Alger awardees as well as the work of the organization:  $245 million in scholarships since 1984, 35K Scholars, $307 million endowment, $17.1 million awarded to 1,735 Scholars in 2021, 71% graduation rate (compared to 16% low-income graduation rate), and largest need-based scholarship program in the U. S. and Canada.

Meet the Horatio Alger Scholars Breakfast

Diane and I went to the Ballroom of the Ritz-Carlton for the Meet the Scholars Breakfast.  Diane and I had several Scholars at our table.  We chose to sit at an Ohio table, so we had Scholars from Ohio State, Yale, and Toledo.  These were young people who overcame adverse circumstances to win their Horatio Alger Scholarships.  We also had some Alumni Scholars, who enriched the discussion.  Diane and I then split up.  Diane went to greet Jenny and Scott and Alexa and Rob, who came to town and were to attend the next event, which was the Members Forum & Luncheon.  I went with half of the new members to prepare for a panel discussion we had before lunch.

I was on a panel with some of the new members, which Ben Mulroney, CCTV host and son of former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney hosted.  Ben and another moderator called on the Scholars who asked pointed questions to each panelist from our biographies.  We then answered the specific question, and other new members could build on the answer.  After the panel I joined Diane, Jenny, Scott, Alexa, and Rob for lunch.  After we finished the main course, the second group of new members performed their panel.

Horatio Alger Panel

The 75th Anniversary Horatio Alger Awards Induction Ceremony

We went back to our rooms to get ready for the evening event—the 75th Anniversary Horatio Alger Awards Induction Ceremony, which was held at the Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall, the second largest venue in D.C. after the Verizon Center.  Diane and I dressed in black tie formal attire.  Buses took us to the hall, where we gathered new members in the President General’s Room.  Diane and I had been in this room previously when we attended a DAR event, where I spoke to thank the DAR for their support of Veterans.  In fact, the current President General was in a lower level position then, she recognized me, and came over to speak and thank me for my service.  Diane and I also spent time with many of the new members and their life partners.

Horatio Alger Awardees

One of the new members I had some fun conversations with was Stanley Kroenke, owner of the Los Angeles Rams and builder of So-Fi Stadium.  We talked about the Super Bowl.  I learned that the other NFL owners are unhappy with Stanley since when he took the team from St. Louis, he agreed to pay St. Louis a lot of money, and rather than take on that liability himself, he spread it across the league.  That made the other owners unhappy.  Lee Anderson, West Point Class of 1961, my sponsor for membership in Horatio Alger, was in the President General’s room with us.  We went through the choreography of the ceremony.

While we were in the room rehearsing, Jenny, Scott, Alexa, and Rob came to the hall and sat at our table.  Tom Dyer, West Point Class of 1967, former Chairman of the West Point Association of Graduates, and his wife Paige; and Lee’s wife Penny; joined our children at our table.  Tom works for Lee.  Lee recently sold his business.  He and Penny split their time between Minneapolis and Naples, Florida.  Paige and Tom live in Orlando, in the sister community of Isleworth, called Lake Nona.  Diane later joined them while Lee and I rehearsed.

There were three Horatio Alger members – Rob Lowe, Reba McIntyre, Byron Pitts – who served as master of ceremonies for the event.  We had patriotic music with supporting videos throughout the event.  When each of us new members were announced, our sponsors presented us a bust of Horatio Alger on stage.  The entertainment for the event was spectacular.  Canadian member David Foster orchestrated some fantastic music, including his wife Kathryn McPhee.

Rob Lowe, Reba McIntyre, Byron Pitts

David opened by talking about one the first songs he wrote, “St. Elmo’s Fire,” for the movie by the same name.  It was one of Rob Lowe’s first movies.  So David called on Rob to come out and “play” the saxophone parts to the song as David played the piano and led the orchestra.  Rob was convincing as he was in the movie playing the saxophone, he’s an actor, yet he doesn’t play.  David also joked about the “Theme Song for Karate Kid” he wrote with Peter Cetera of the band Chicago.  He jokingly complained that it lost the Grammy that year to “Take Your Breath Away” by Berlin, which was part of the soundtrack of Top Gun.  His joke was that if his song had been with Top Gun, he would have won.  So he showed footage from Top Gun with “Karate Kid” playing.  It was convincing.

Horatio Alger Prime Minister Mulruney and David Forster

David also asked for volunteers from the audience to sing.  He was believable in doing this since many of the artists who accompanied him, he had discovered.  When no one volunteered, he called on fellow Canadian member, former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, to sing.  The Prime Minister, who is of Irish descent, sang “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.”  He was actually a very good crooner.  Member and MC Reba McIntrye then performed.  She sang a couple of her hits and was terrific.  It was a fun evening.  Diane and I very much appreciated Jenny, Scott, Alexa, and Rob attending.  We also very much appreciated Lee and Penny sponsoring our admittance.

Horatio Alger Awards After Party

After the party there was an after-party in the ballroom of the Ritz-Carlton.  Alexa and Rob attended with Diane and me.  Many members and guests came up to us to talk about our remarks during the day, our membership, our leadership of the VA, and more.  We got to bed after 1 a.m.

Saturday morning I got up to exercise only to discover the fitness facility wouldn’t open, it was Saturday, until too late for me to finish.  Diane and I got up later, packed, cleaned up, and went down to the ballroom for Breakfast with the Scholars.  This is an event where members sit among the Scholars to get to know them, provide advice and support.  We had to leave while the breakfast was in progress to go to Ronald Reagan National Airport for our American Airlines flight back to Orlando.

Returning Home

We took off about noon.  The flight was two and a half hours in length.  Diane read more in her book by Brian Haig.  I read more in my book by Mary Beard.  I also did some work on my laptop.  We landed in Orlando about 2:20 p.m.  Diane and I collected our luggage, loaded our car, and drove home.

Thank You to Friends and Family

Horatio Alger Awards 2022

Overall, I am incredibly appreciative of my family and friends support for endeavors we choose to get involved in, like the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans.  It is a great cause to provide scholarships to needy youth to help them achieve the American Dream.  Certainly, going to West Point changed the trajectory of my life (although I was not needy nor did not face the adversity these Scholars face), and we want the same for these Scholars.  Thanks to Jenny, Scott, Alexa, Rob for attending.  Thanks to Diane, who complements me is so many ways, and taught me how to care for others.  Thanks to Penny, Lee, Paige, and Tom for their friendship.

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