Legendary comic Bill Cosby P’87 headlined the University’s gala benefit on Jan. 17 at the regal Pierre Hotel ballroom in New York City. The event raised $2.5 million for the University’s scholarship funds, with almost 500 alumni and other friends of the University attending to see Cosby’s stand-up act.
“Men wore business suits and women cocktail dresses,” said Alumni Director John Driscoll ’62 of the formal event. “You arrived there and they had a list. We gave our names, went in, followed the crowd, checked our coats, and there was the big ballroom, a real classic.”
Formalities aside, the event, in the spirit of the University, brought together an eclectic mix of people.
“One of the interesting things was that you seldom have gatherings with such a wide age spread,” Driscoll said.
Attendees’ ages spanned seven decades, including alumni who graduated in the 1940s and a University basketball team from the 1980s.
The donated $2.5 million will go toward the 44 percent of University students who receive financial aid.
“Annually, the University spends in the neighborhood of $31 million on grants and scholarships to Wesleyan students,” said Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Nancy Meislahn. “It is a huge institutional commitment and, therefore, so important for alumni to support. The event was a wonderful tribute to the commitment that Wesleyan alumni make to ensure that we can remain need-blind in admission and make a Wesleyan education accessible and affordable for all students.”
Cosby’s characteristically wholesome routine addressed the trials and tribulations of trying to get his less-than-diligent daughter into college. Attendees said that the routine was relevant as well as quite funny.
“He talked about how his daughter, not Erika, wasn’t doing too well in high school,” said Development Writer for University Relations Cynthia Wells.
Cosby recounted for the audience when his daughter asked for a car to help her 1.8 GPA. He bought her a junk car and she demanded an explanation.
“[I said] ‘Here’s a 1.8 car,’” Cosby quipped.
Cosby continued by recalling how he had once attempted to persuade a Vermont college, which he re-named “Mount $25,000,” to admit his not-so-studious daughter. He said that he called the school twice and, upon introducing himself, the president’s secretary responded by hanging up, assuming that it was a prank call. During the third call, the secretary demanded that the prank caller prove he was actually Cosby. Cosby did his best rendition of Fat Albert and the secretary, realizing her error, connected him with the president.
Cosby related how he began the conversation by asking the president if the school needed a new hospital, suggesting that he would fund one to compensate for his daughter’s abysmal test scores. The president then asked Cosby about his daughter’s actual scores and, after hearing them, responded that the school could use a highway to the hypothetical hospital, as well. Eventually, the school did accept Cosby’s daughter.
Also speaking at the event were President Bennet, Meislahn, and Coordinator of the Wesleyan Student Assembly Estrella Lopez ’07.
“It was something different,” Driscoll said. “Yet it seemed kind of natural, because it was so many different Wesleyan generations supporting something so important.”
Cosby received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the University in 1987, the same year that his daughter, Erika, graduated.