Celebration: University recognizes Leading Together’s impact and the Wrightons’ ‘selfless service’

Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton and his wife, Risa Zwerling Wrighton, dance with students at the gala. (Photo: Whitney Curtis/Washington University)

Nearly 1,200 members of the Washington University in St. Louis community came together at the Marriott St. Louis Grand Hotel Dec. 7 to celebrate the impact of Leading Together: The Campaign for Washington University and to honor Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton and his wife, Risa Zwerling Wrighton.

The dinner gala was an opportunity to thank the many donors and volunteers who contributed to making Leading Together the university’s largest fundraising campaign with gifts and commitments totaling $3.378 billion.

Leading Together shattered its initial goal of $2.2 billion when it concluded on June 30.

In expressing his deep gratitude to all who contributed to the campaign’s success, Life Trustee Andrew C. Taylor, Leading Together’s public phase chair, said, “I want to thank the 4,300 volunteers from all over the world who dedicated their time and treasure, and the nearly 160,000 donors who supported the campaign. We came together with a purpose and a plan, and in the end, we made something incredible happen.

“The remarkable generosity of those in this room, and others around the world, has created opportunities for a richer academic life for our students, advanced path-breaking discoveries, provided life-saving medical care, and secured a brighter future for our world and our university,” Taylor said.

While noting that the campaign total includes an unprecedented $591 million for scholarships to enhance affordability and accessibility for outstanding students, Taylor said, “The scholarship support donors provided during the campaign helps to ensure that when a passionate and talented student comes to us for help, the answer is, ‘Yes,’ not, ‘We’ll see what we can do.’”

Taylor highlighted other milestones reached in the historic initiative that will impact our local community and others around the globe:

  • 153 new endowed deanships, professorships and other positions to attract and retain outstanding faculty and leaders;
  • $1.502 billion for academic programs to further critical programs and advance powerful research;
  • $311 million for facilities to support collaborative, cutting-edge work; and
  • $297 million for the Annual Fund to provide deans and the chancellor with flexible funds to address urgent needs.

Wrighton noted that the “dramatic” impact of the campaign is already being felt, and he expressed his gratitude to all who contributed to advancing an overarching goal: “to enhance our leadership today to benefit America and the world tomorrow.”

“Let me take this time to express my deepest gratitude for your investment in our mission of education, research, service and clinical care,” Wrighton said. “And, thank you for what you will continue to do for this great institution as we move forward into its next era of excellence and achievement — together.”

The gala also was a time to recognize the Wrightons’ contributions to the university during his chancellorship. The chancellor will conclude his term May 31. He is being succeeded by Andrew D. Martin, chancellor-designate.

“When Chancellor Wrighton arrived in 1995, he pledged to ‘build a better future for those who follow us,’” Craig Schnuck, chairman of the Board of Trustees, told the audience. “Thanks to his exceptional and inspiring leadership, Washington University has done just that for our students and faculty, and those they serve.”

Referencing their enormous contributions to the university and the St. Louis community, Schnuck added that the Wrightons “have served as stalwart leaders and compassionate caretakers for the Washington University community.”

Other highlights of the evening included surprise tributes to the Wrightons, including the establishment of the Wrighton Tribute Fund that will support some of the university’s greatest priorities and the naming of two Danforth Campus buildings in their honor.

  • In announcing the Board of Trustees’ establishment of the fund, Schnuck said that it recognizes “Mark and Risa’s extraordinary accomplishments and selfless service to others.” One of those priorities is the McDonnell International Scholars Academy that Mark Wrighton envisioned and inaugurated in 2005, greatly advancing the university’s international reputation. The Academy, which launched with 15 Asian partner universities and enrolls graduate and professional students from partner universities, now has 34 premier partner institutions located on all the inhabited continents. There are over 100 scholar alumni and 85 currently studying on the Washington University campus.
  • At the gala, Life Trustee and co-chair of the campaign’s leadership phase John F. McDonnell, founding benefactor of the Academy, announced the establishment of the Mark S. Wrighton Leadership Fellows. Each spring, two McDonnell scholars in residence at the Academy will be selected and given tailored opportunities for further leadership development.
  • To recognize the Wrightons’ tremendous commitment to the university’s undergraduate students, Taylor announced that select students in the Enterprise Holdings Scholars program, which the Taylor family and Enterprise Holdings established in 2001 and have continued to support, will be known as the Mark S. Wrighton and Risa Zwerling Wrighton Scholars.

Schnuck announced that the Wrighton Tribute Fund will also establish lasting testaments on the Danforth Campus.

“During Mark’s tenure, our campuses have witnessed tremendous progress through the addition and enhancement of facilities that support living, learning and research,” Schnuck said. “As such, it is highly appropriate that the Wrighton name have a physical presence at the university, joining the ranks of our most esteemed leaders and steadfast supporters.”

A rendering of Wrighton Way.
A rendering of Wrighton Way.

Schnuck announced a special addition to the Danforth Campus east end transformation project: Wrighton Way.

Wrighton Way will be located south of the Gary M. Sumers Welcome Center and will include a walkway and court. University community members can name a paver on the walkway connecting Forsyth Boulevard to the Wrighton Way court.

Schnuck said that two buildings stood out as places that represent the Wrightons.

It was noted that Risa, who holds a master’s degree in social work and an MBA from Olin Business School, has enriched the lives of students in many ways, including serving as a four-year academic adviser and establishing Home Plate, a program that since 2002 has matched undergraduates with local families for a meal and a touch of home. Today, over 350 families participate in Home Plate, which serves hundreds of students annually.

In the first building naming announcement, Schnuck said, “In the spirit of Home Plate, College Hall is a welcoming space in which students gather to dine, attend events and build lasting friendships. This magnificent space in the heart of the South 40 Residential Community will be named in honor of Risa Zwerling Wrighton.”

Schnuck then announced: “In addition to Mark Wrighton’s accomplishments as an esteemed academic administrator, he is an accomplished chemist with an incredible number of honors, patents and appointments. I am excited to share that the Department of Chemistry’s Laboratory Sciences Building will now be known as Mark S. Wrighton Hall.”

A new portrait of the Wrightons by Jamie Adams, associate professor in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, was unveiled. The portrait will be displayed in Mark S. Wrighton Hall.

The Board of Trustees members weren’t the only ones with a surprise. At the end of the evening, Chancellor Wrighton quickly donned his “Magic Mark” lab coat and goggles, and Risa, a sparkly hat and boa.

With a prop TNT plunger between them, Wrighton said, “You know, I’ve been contemplating how to concoct just the right magical formula required to close this special evening.”

After a countdown, the two pushed the prop TNT plunger, confetti cannons fired and the 70s funk band Kool & the Gang appeared on stage performing their number one hit “Celebration.”


View a selection of images from the celebration of the successful conclusion of the campaign and honors for Chancellor Wrighton and his wife, Risa.

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