Scholarship Benefit Dinner highlights innovation, looks toward the future

Smith Society Founder Bill Dickinson honored with Fiat Lux Award

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Susan Wojcicki (M.S. applied economics, ’93), senior vice president, advertising, for Google, delivered a speech and multimedia presentation charting the rise of her company starting with the days when its cofounders began it as a fledgling operation in her garage. Wojckicki was Google’s 16th hire. 
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Susan Wojcicki spoke of Google's humble beginnings in her garage, and showed a photo of the company's co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.
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UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal addressed the crowd.
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Bill Dickinson, founder of the Smith Renaissance Society, delivered an emotional acceptance speech near the conclusion of the Scholarship Benefit Dinner. He was this year's recipient of the Fiat Lux Award. (Photos by Steve Kurtz)

A crowd of 400 turned out for the ninth annual UC Santa Cruz Scholarship Benefit Dinner that took place Saturday night at the Fairmont in downtown San Jose with the theme of "Taking on the Future."

One of UCSC's signature events, the dinner provides support for undergraduate scholarships and graduate fellowships in an effort to help students attain their fullest academic potential.

“Tonight is about how to prepare our students for accomplishment and innovation,” said UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal.

More students than ever now need financial assistance to attend the university, and in recent years, low- and middle-income families have been particularly hard-hit by increased costs.

Due to the reduction in state support for the University of California, UC fees for an undergraduate California resident are approximately $12,192 for 2011-12. More than two-thirds of UC undergraduates received some form of financial assistance in the past academic year.

During the gala dinner, the audience listened with rapt attention as Susan Wojcicki (M.S. applied economics, ’93), senior vice president, advertising, for Google, delivered a speech and multimedia presentation charting the rise of her company starting with the days when cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin began it as a fledgling operation in her garage, which they were renting at the time. Wojckicki later became Google’s 16th hire.

The audience cheered and gave a standing ovation for alumnus Bill Dickinson, founder of the Smith Renaissance Society at UCSC. Dickinson received the UC Santa Cruz Foundation’s Fiat Lux Award for his outstanding commitment to independent students at UCSC—those who are homeless, foster or runaway youths, orphans, or wards of the court.

Before the ceremony, walking through the corridors of the Fairmont was like taking a stroll through all phases of UCSC history. In one corner, Harold “Hal” Hyde—UCSC's first vice chancellor of business and finance and last year's recipient of the Fiat Lux award, greeted well-wishers.

Across the concourse, Tan Ha and Gabi Kirk of the Campus Sustainability Internship Program were on hand to talk to guests about green initiatives on campus while UCSC’s newly selected alumni Regent Ken Feingold introduced himself to guests. Staff and students told guests about Project Awesome, a project to advance women’s education at the School of Engineering.

Before long, Cloud 9 A Cappella ushered guests into the Regency ballroom with their performance of a Jackie Wilson tune in the foyer, which they followed up on stage with a human beat-box-driven doo-wop take on “What a Wonderful World,” a song made famous by Louis Armstrong.

The audience took in presentations that ranged from the cutting edge of the information technology world to a program that provides confidence and academic success for independent students.

Susan Wojcicki provided a good illustration for the evening’s “Taking on the Future” theme. A key member of the Google startup team, she now leads the design, innovation, and engineering of all of Google's advertising products—accounting for 96 percent of the company's revenue. She joined Google in 1999 as its first marketing manager and worked on its original marketing programs.

Wojcicki, who earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard University, also led the initial development of several key successful consumer products including Google Images, Google Books, and Google Video.

Her presentation ranged from emotionally stirring to hilarious. Referencing the urgency of fundraising for student scholarships, she said, “I feel like it’s not that long ago (when) I was a UCSC student on a scholarship. I haven’t changed that much since then—but the world has changed. When I graduated in 1993, the Internet was still a government research project.... When I was at UCSC I couldn’t upload pictures, look at posts, and figure out which friends were hanging out at the Saturn Café,” she added, referring to Santa Cruz’s famous vegetarian diner.

Now the Internet has more than 2 billion users across the globe.

To illustrate the far-ranging power of information technology she provided visual examples—ranging from  a Twitter post that played a role in the Arab Spring to Rebecca Black’s (in)famous pop-song video, “Friday”—which received some 200 million hits, with 86 percent dislikes. She took audience members on a ride through UCSC using images from Google Maps with Street View and shared stunning footage showing the Google Driverless Car Project.

Bill Dickinson received loud applause after his emotional address to the crowd. His address included warm remarks about Page and Eloise Smith, his mentors at UCSC, commemorated in the name of the Smith Renaissance Society.

“I feel abiding gratitude,” Dickinson said. “First, I am grateful for Page Smith, our founding (Cowell College) provost, whose name we bear and whose necktie I am honored to wear. The first and last man I saw ride a horse on campus, Page stood tall in the saddle, embodying virtues and values young people could grasp easily—especially the love and respect he lavished on students regardless of status. I am grateful for his fiercely spunky wife, Eloise, an artist who showed that if you want to see something good happen just do it.

“I am grateful for the community of friends—volunteers inside and outside the university, mentors, and donors—whose big-hearted devotion makes the Smith Renaissance Society possible,” Dickinson said. "This award goes to all of us. I am grateful to our students, past and present, who showed up tonight: you are our reason for being, our hope for the future.”