I left my apartment on Packard Street at 6:30 pm on Friday afternoon. The south side of Michigan's campus was behind me, as were countless former Michigan football players: the coaching staff is welcoming back former Wolverines before the annual spring game in Michigan Stadium. Desmond Howard, Dhani Jones and Denard Robinson all could have been there to chat with other former greats, but the trio decided to sit out of the usual banter and head north to Palmer Commons, where a small group called Appreciate and Reciprocate was holding its annual benefit dinner.
I couldn't help but wonder what the atmosphere would be like during the benefit dinner. My cheap college kid Joseph A. Bank suit would probably make me stick out like a sore thumb in a room full of wealthy, prestigious men and women who would surely all be clad in Armani; this is Michigan after all, right?
The first person I see when I walk in is Dhani Jones. He isn't talking to anyone, telling a story about that one time he threw a Buckeye to the ground, or even fixing his famous bow tie. No, Dhani, the multimillionaire himself, is standing in front of a hand-quilted, maize and blue blanket, just to see if his current bid of two-hundred-something dollars was still the greatest amount on the silent auction sheet. It wasn't, so he picked up the pen and wrote in an even higher amount. There were countless high-quality items up for auction that night, all of which were well within his budget, but Dhani had his heart set on a maize and blue blanket, because damn that blanket looks blue and comfortable. Something tells me that Dhani just wanted to drive the price of the blanket up until he made one final ridiculous bid; he pumped his fist and let out an emphatic "Yes!" when the winners of the auction were announced.
Next up was the dinner. What I estimated to be around three hundred people were ushered into the Great Lakes Room and sat at their respective seats, with the former players sitting at a table toward the edge of the room. The food was fantastic, but no one wants to hear about how amazing the potatoes and chicken were, so I digress.
A half-hour later we see Desmond, Dhani and Denard walk onto a slightly elevated platform, where four blue chairs awaited them. In the fourth chair sat a tall brunette woman, presumably a former Michigan student, who would oversee the interview of the three Wolverine legends. The first few minutes consisted of the three players telling us something we didn't know about them. Desmond loves Krispy Kreme doughnuts, Denard loves candy and Dhani always drank a two-liter of Sprite after his games. If you want proof of athletic ability being god-given, or universe-give, or whatever-you-believe-in-given, look no further.
Minutes later there were three hundred sets of eyes glued to the side of the room, as the trio began to answer more serious questions, most of which were related to philanthropy. Dhani spoke of his good friend who battled cancer, which lead to him becoming the bow tie man that he is today. Desmond filled the room with the words of Bo Schembechler, letting us all know that the late coaching great was one of the most positive influences on his life. Denard was just Denard, blinding us all with a 10,000-watt smile every time he started to talk about why he needed to give back.
It was during the interview that I realized this: no one here gives a damn about what anyone here is wearing. The pretentiousness and arrogance that I pictured as I walked to Palmer Commons was nowhere to be found, and not a single person in the room would look away from three football players who were talking about giving back to the community. Every last one of these people were successful, and most likely wealthy, and yet every last one of them gave money and time to listen to an interview about philanthropy.
The questions kept coming, and the trio kept answering. Suddenly everything was being related to Michigan's brand and elite academic status, but the talk was almost always tied back to how Michigan's academics give people the chance to come together and use their intellect for the greater good. The feeling in the room became less prideful and more giving as time went on, and we were all mostly silent by the end.
I feel extremely privileged to have been given an invitation to hear three former Wolverines speak about philanthropy, and I think I'm going to join Appreciate and Reciprocate next year because of this dinner. I didn't know it before, but the group is run solely by students who received LS&A scholarships and are looking to give back. I personally came from a poor household and never would have been able to attend Michigan if it weren't for people like those in that room Friday night.
I highly recommend donating to A+R. The group doesn't raise money for typical academic scholarships like mine, but rather for kids who go through the most extreme circumstances at home. Make sure to stop by the A+R website if you're looking to give back to the Michigan community, or to young people in general.
Maize N Brew gives a massive thank you to Desmond, Dhani, Denard, Sara Ginzberg and the rest of the A+R community for letting us cover their annual benefit dinner. We're looking forward to doing it again next year.