Regis Holds Virtual President's Dinner

On Thursday, May 15, Regis hosted its annual President's Dinner, which recognizes the school's most generous benefactors. Normally held at the St. Regis Hotel, participants joined Regis President Fr. Daniel K. Lahart, SJ, via Zoom because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

During the hour-long event, which also featured a panel of current students and remarks by Regis Board of Trustees Chair Anthony DiNovi '80, Fr. Lahart thanked the attendees for their ongoing support of Regis and offered an update on the school. You can read his full remarks below:

Thank you so much for joining us tonight.  To say I’m disappointed that we’re not all together at the St. Regis, or even here at Regis, for a wonderful dinner party is certainly an understatement.  The President’s Dinner has quickly become one of my favorite events of the year, and those of you who were able to be with us last year as I interviewed the remarkable member of the Class of 1958 who has since become an international celebrity, you know what a fun time this dinner usually is.  But thank you again for joining us via Zoom.  As I mention Dr. Fauci, perhaps we can take a moment to silently offer a prayer for him and all those who work on the front lines these days, including many of our alumni and parents.  [Pause]  Thank you.

The real reason of this annual gathering is simply to say Thank You for your wonderful support of Regis High School.  The work that we do simply wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the remarkable support of the people who are invited to this dinner (or Zoom) every year.  Thank you.

Just last Sunday I went out for my morning walk around the outer loop in Central Park, it’s about 6.5 miles, and on Sunday morning, May 10th, it was a clear blue sky and 39 degrees and very windy.  As I thought about this talk, it felt a lot more like fall or winter than late spring, and I wondered if I should organize my thoughts around A Christmas Carol, and talk about the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.  I think I’ll stick to Past, Present, and Future for now.

First the past.  Everyone invited to join us tonight has been invited because of your past support of Regis High School.  Whether it was last year, or earlier this year, or because your giving over your lifetime puts you in a particular friend category.  Thank you.  Last year’s annual fund raised just over $9 million to support the operations of the school.  Alumni, parents, alumni parents, friends – you made the work that we do at Regis – and at REACH – possible.  Thank you.

Prior to early March, if you had asked me about how this year was going, I would have said that it was easily the smoothest year I’ve known here.  My first year was, as any first year can be, challenging.  It takes a while to learn a place and a culture, to learn names and histories.  It’s not easy.  But I certainly felt very welcomed.  My second year we jumped into our first ever Strategic Plan, and it was a wonderful opportunity to engage and re-engage scores of people with the school as we looked at where we wanted to be as a school going forward over the next five years.  It was a great process, a lot of work, and many of you were intimately involved with it, thank you again.  Last year, was a transition year as Fr. Andreassi began as interim principal, and then I appointed him as our full-time principal.  He’s done a wonderful job, and I am very grateful for his leadership on the academic side of the house.  Fr. Powell also left us as Director of REACH as he was given a new mission across the river in Brooklyn, and our long time CFO also retired at the end of the year.

So as I started this year, as I looked around the conference room at my own staff meetings, I realized that there was no one in that room who was with me when I started.  In addition to Fr. Andreassi, James Kennedy ’02 in his third year as Vice President of Development, Doug Eickman ’05 as the new Director of REACH, Joe Amatrucola in a new position as Vice President of Operations overseeing the physical operations of the school, Kevin Bannon ’87 as our new Director of Finance, and Fr. AJ Rizzo as school chaplain.  64 years of experience working at Regis among them, but not one of them sat at that table with me in my first year.  And, I proudly and happily say, I have an amazing staff.

Everything was going along so smoothly.  The early work on a capital campaign was very successful, and I would have said, we were on track for a record year on many different levels.

And then the world changed.

Second, the present.  On March 16 we began our foray into remote instruction, hoping it might be for two weeks, and now it will continue, of course, through the end of the year.  I believe that our pivot to remote instruction has gone very smoothly, or so I hear from parents, students, and from faculty.  It isn’t ideal.  No one at Regis would argue that this is what we should be doing going forward.  We realize that nothing is a perfect substitute for that unique face-to-face encounter between teacher and student, or as is also so important at Regis, between student and student.  But we are blessed that we have students who want to learn, and teachers who love to teach.  And that is a great combination.

Our maintenance guys have still been coming in, and the building probably is cleaner and in better shape than it has been in decades.  But the hallways are empty, and they long for the return of our students.

Where is Regis in the present moment?  We are still a long way from completing our Annual Fund, about $2.5 million shy of our $9 million goal, in what is the worst economic time since the depression.  Our endowment, which is conservatively positioned, still took a significant hit, but has bounced back greatly with the markets.  I don’t lose sleep over either of those things.  Our mission speaks for itself – and we try to communicate it well to you and others – and I have confidence we will be okay.

Where are we in the present moment?  I think the strength of who we are, and the deep loyalty of our alumni and families, positions us to thrive in these challenging and stressful times.

What about the future?  That great leadership team I was praising just a few minutes ago, well, they will work with other tremendous individuals on our faculty and staff, and we will figure out what we have to do to make education work at Regis in the fall.  I have no doubt about that.  But I also know, that I have no idea what that might look like at Labor Day.  And it will take an incredible amount of work to get us there.

Actually, our unusual business model has some benefits in times of an international pandemic.  I’m not particular worried about our enrollment.  I hope we don’t lose any students, new or returning, but our financial future doesn’t depend on tuition and bodies.  Moreover, as I often say, free is pretty cheap, so we are a great value proposition.  We won’t have to worry about whether the right number to increase a financial aid budget by is 50% or 150%.  Again, the benefit of not having tuition.

The future is unknown, but I am surrounded by great colleagues, and great supporters of our unique mission.  So I know our future is sound and solid.  Thank you for helping me to sleep at night!

There is no doubt that this current experience will impact the future.  I hope that this is a once-in-a-lifetime event, and it is something that our students can tell their grandchildren about.  But we don’t know what the new reality look like when we get back to “normal”.

As much as I don’t know what the future will look like come Labor Day and beyond, there is something that I know and am very confident of.  No matter what the fall looks like, whether we’re back in the building here at 84th Street, or still doing Zoom sessions, or some hybrid of the two, no matter what this virus does to our health and to our spirit, no matter what happens with the economy and with the election of the fall of 2020, the mission of Regis High School will last.  As we have done for the past 106 years, we will continue to transform the lives of boys from all across the metropolitan area into men of competence, conscience, and compassion – Men for Others.  No virus, no pandemic will change who we are and what we are about.  And while I won’t be around when today’s students turn 79 years old like Dr. Fauci is now, I am confident that our students will impact the world we live in, in substantial ways.

This happens because of your support.  That is the Future, that is the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.  And just like that Christmas Carol, it has a happy ending because of things that happen in the present.  You write our ending. Of this I’m sure.  And for this I am very grateful.  Thank you for your support of our students, thank you for your support of the Future, for the Christmas Yet to Come!

Thank you.

Posted: 5/21/20