Parties: Grade A

Written by Catherine Bigelow | Photography by Drew Altizer

Students and supporters returned to their “desks” November 19 at the historic Julia Morgan Ballroom in the landmark Merchants Exchange Building. Hosted by Nob Hill Gazette owners Janet and Clint Reilly, the sold-out crowd of 250 raised more than $1 million during the 8th Giving Thanks by Giving Back Thanksgiving Luncheon benefiting Bay Scholars.

The organization, founded in 2007 by the Reillys with just 10 students at Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory in San Francisco, now annually provides 500 low-income students with full-ride, $14K scholarships at 14 Bay Area Catholic high schools. Among those institutions: Junipero Serra High School (San Mateo); ICA Cristo Rey Academy, Archbishop Riordan High School (San Francisco); Bishop O’Dowd High School (Oakland); Saint Francis High School (Mountain View) and De La Salle High School (Concord).

Unfortunately, honored guest and keynote speaker Representative Jackie Speier was forced to beam in for her fireside chat with journalist Janet Reilly from Washington, D.C., where Speier remained to vote on the massive infrastructure bill introduced by President Joe Biden.

“Forty-three years ago, as I lay dying on a jungle airstrip [in Guyana with her murdered boss, Representative Leo Ryan], I promised God that, if I were allowed to live, I would dedicate my life to public service,” Speier recalled. “I was given that chance. And thanks to [all] of you, I was able to make good on that promise.” Speier also shared that upon the bill’s victory, she and her chief of staff celebrated with a bottle of California wine and a box of See’s Candies.

Speier’s storied career commenced in 1980 when she won a seat on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors. However, days prior to the Bay Scholars event, Speier — a skilled Democratic politico and graduate of Mercy High School Burlingame (another Bay Scholars beneficiary school) — announced her retirement from public service. She desires to spend more precious time with her family and cease being a “weekend wife.”

Led by Bay Scholars Executive Director Caitlin Curran Kavanagh and award-winning author and media host Brian Copeland (a graduate of Bay Scholars partner Moreau Catholic High School in Hayward), the luncheon featured educational success stories by current students — including Silas Bahlibi (Sacred Heart), Kamara Ayanna Pitts (Moreau), Christian Harris (Salesian College Preparatory in Hayward) and Achella Ramirez (Sacred Heart), whose Bay Scholars financial aid has inspired her dream of becoming an astronomer.

“Bay Scholars has grown into a Bay Area institution, providing low-income high school students with support and a gateway to college,” toasted Clint Reilly. “Look at the incredible difference that Congresswoman Jackie Speier has achieved; how many lives she’s impacted; how much good she’s done for our city, San Mateo County, California and our nation. To every student in the room, I want to say, ‘You, too, can be Jackie Speier in your own way, with your own gifts, in your future career and in your lives.’”

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