November 3rd marked the annual Belen Jesuit Prep.Fundraiser Gala hosted at the University of Miami. Belen Jesuit Prep holds a special place in my heart, as I myself am an alumni. I am always proud to get to work with this fundraiser every year and provide a fun energetic environment. This year I chose the theme “This is Belen” and wanted it to be a tribute / thank you letter to all of the students that have made up this schools rich history. The school was founded in Cuba in 1854 and moved to Miami in 1962 when Fidel Castro (ironically an alumni of the school) took power and converted the school into a military base. I took inspiration from the students themselves. I had come across some of their vintage yearbooks from the 1900s and 1800s and I was fascinated looking at pictures of the students ,the sports team, and campus life from back then.
As always we custom fabricate just about everything for the event. This was quite the undertaking that took many months of prep work. We began working on this project two months prior to the gala. We had to have photos from the yearbooks scanned, photoshopped, enhanced and digitized. We then printed sample panels to see what would hang and what worked best. We tried three different options: paper, canvas and finally decided on vinyl. The week prior to the gala was spent applying the stickers of the students faces to the table tops and making sure all was perfect. The night before the gala we started at 11pm installing the 40: 10’ x 14’ panels that lined the room, and 15 straight hours later we were done! Everything in the ballroom was a black and white color pallet and to contrast all the vintage photos. We also opted to mix traditional floral centerpieces on the round tables with white neon strip light centerpieces for the royal tables.
My main objective was to have people interact with the decor and walk around the room and look at all the photos of past alumni on the walls and tables. I knew it was going to be impactful but It turned out better than I imagined it. I was not prepared for the emotional reactions from guests. An older gentleman came up to me with tears in his eyes, thanking me. He pointed over to a group of pictures and explained that was him and they were the last class to graduate from the school in Cuba in 1961 before they had to flee the country. They had left everything behind and he had not seen those pictures in over 50 years. The school principal was literally speechless and had goosebumps. The big question now is, how will we ever top this for next year?