After finals ended this past May, most students went straight back to their homes to start internships and summer jobs, but, for the Vassar Veteran’s Posse, there was another stop along the way. In late May, the members of Vassar’s inaugural Veteran’s Posse attended the Posse Foundation’s 25th Anniversary Gala, where they were introduced to the audience by Comedy Central’s own Stephen Colbert.
Every year, the Posse Foundation as a whole hosts a ceremony to honor all of the Posse scholars whom Posse is helping to further their education. The dinner also serves as a fundraiser for Posse’s various programs, including the Veterans Posse currently at Vassar. Over 700 guests attended the formal dinner and contributed to the $3.6 million that Posse raised this past year to help fund their programs.
The event, which was held in downtown Manhattan, has always been a star-studded one. A constant at the Gala, Lesley Stahl, who has reported on CBS’s “60 Minutes” for over 20 years, returned to emcee the Gala for her 10th year in a row.
In addition to the dinner, the Gala featured a short performance by a famous musician. This year’s musician was five-time Grammy-winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member James Taylor, who played several of his biggest hits for the members of the crowd at the Gala.
“He [Taylor] was incredible,” said Patrick Hood ’17, a member of Vassar’s first Veteran’s Posse. “He had a really amazing voice. I’d only heard a little bit of his music before but…He was really talented.”
The Gala opened with a video filmed by First Lady Michelle Obama in which she praised the efforts of Posse scholars and the Foundation as a whole.
After, comedians John Leguizamo and Stephen Colbert—of “The Colbert Report” fame—both made speeches at the Gala, and Colbert went on to introduce the attendees from the Vassar Posse. Several of the Posse members, including Hood, had gotten the privilege to meet Colbert in his office several days before so he could learn a little about them as people.
Michelle Ganeless, President of Comedy Central, is a member of Posse’s National Board of Directors, and she helped arrange the meeting between the Vassar Posse and Colbert. Though the date of the meeting was during finals week and only a few members of the Posse could make it due to their exam schedules, Ganeless insisted that those who could must come down to the city so she could meet them.
“I am incredibly proud of the partnership that we have built with Posse over the years, and hope to see more and more Scholars as part of our networks in the future,” said Ganeless in a press release.
After meeting with her, the Posse got to go up to Colbert’s office to meet the man himself.
“He was really friendly,” said Hood. “He asked us what it’s like at Vassar, so I said: ‘Well, we have a quidditch team!’ and he laughed. Definitely felt good making Stephen Colbert laugh,” he finished with a laugh.
At the Gala, Colbert introduced the Vassar Posse, giving a speech where he talked about the importance of teamwork and cohesiveness to the veterans as they transition into college life. Before the event, Hood had been asked to give a speech after Colbert’s.
“I was so nervous, I hate public speaking. I must’ve practiced the speech 50 times that day but it didn’t really come together until after Colbert got up there,” recalled Hood. “He made it way easier to get up there and give that speech in front of so many people.”
In addition to the various celebrities present at the Gala, the very first group of Posse scholars to attend Vanderbilt University, who rode a bus from New York City, were in attendance.
A member of that group, who has just resigned a position as a Dean at Middlebury College to take a position at Rutgers, gave a speech alongside a member of the 25th class of Posse scholars at Vanderbilt. Members of several other various Posse’s over the years also made speeches at the Gala, talking about how they have gone on to utilize the education they got through Posse.
Over its 25 year history, Posse has helped over 2,600 students from underprivileged backgrounds with academic scholarships and training so that they can pursue higher education. According to Posse’s website, there are projected to be over 6,000 Posse alumnae/i by 2020.
Only last year, Posse expanded their programs to begin to include Posse’s of ten to eleven post-9/11 American military veterans, the first group of which are currently sophomores here at Vassar. This year, Vassar was joined by Wesleyan University in welcoming another Posse of veterans.
As Colbert mentioned in his speech at the Gala, the Posse Veterans are not typical college-aged students. They all have shared an experience that very few others have. Many of them are several years older than their student peers. Some even have children.
But, as Colbert put it with a smile, they do have a leg-up on most other students.
“These guys are a step ahead of normal college students! They can already find Iraq and Afghanistan on a map!”