For alumni and Bicentennial events AVP Diane Scolaro, five years of Bicentennial planning and celebrations had built to the most special event of all
By Sean Markey
Photographs by Karen Kasmauski
The Norwich Record | Winter 2020
Friday night’s Homecoming Gala dinner was about to begin and Shapiro Field House looked nothing short of stunning. It was like high school prom, only better, grander and more elegant. Seven hundred luminous globes hung from the ceiling, whispering their soft light over a sea of tables. A ridiculously large 140-foot jumbo flat screen stretched behind a speaker’s podium. Place settings decked in maroon and gold awaited the evening’s 1,200 dinner guests.
Diane Scolaro walked to the gala’s main entrance, ready to welcome the tide of expectant alumni. It was her favorite place to stand. More than a thousand guests were about to arrive, and Scolaro felt she knew many of them. Standing in the starfield at the door, she greeted friends old and new— trading smiles, sharing hugs, catching up, even if just for a few seconds.
She saw the reaction of everyone as they stepped into the hall. That was the best part. A word she heard often was, “Wow!” Mission accomplished, she thought.
It had been seven years in the making, Norwich’s Bicentennial Homecoming. Two years of planning and four years of kickoff celebrations until this fifth and final year. It all culminated this week. This night especially. Tonight’s gala was purely about celebrating. Celebrating Norwich on the occasion of its 200th anniversary. Celebrating the record-setting Forging the Future capital campaign. Celebrating the final year of President Richard Schneider’s long and august tenure at Norwich. But most of all, celebrating the rich tapestry of people, whose lives and accomplishments and commitment and friendship and fealty remained ineffably bound to this campus, a place that taught them so much so early in their lives. And by now, Scolaro felt that inevitable connection, too—even if she never attended Norwich.
Eight years past and Scolaro could still recall in vivid detail the start of her own Bicentennial odyssey. Still a relatively new hire, still feeling her way, she met with Mike Popowski, the lawyer and university friend whose father served as the commandant of cadets when he was at Norwich. She babbled on for 40 minutes, sharing her vision.
When she finally stopped talking, Popowski returned a blunt assessment: You stand a good chance of screwing this up, she recalls him telling her. Then he shared some advice: You need to surround yourself with good people.
So she did. Heather Socha, technical designer Don Hirsch ’71, the video team at Motion Pictures Division, the production specialists at Port Lighting, and so many others. Paramount was Doug McCracken ’70, chair of the Bicentennial Committee. The retired Deloitte Consulting CEO proved an endless source of vision, wisdom, good ideas, energy, effort, and, truth be told, charm and comic relief. The latest example: McCracken’s recent purchase of a multi-seat passenger van to address a purported “wine emergency” back home in North Carolina. (The dilemma being how to ship numerous cases of wine from his personal collection to his second home in Vermont in time for Homecoming and the many houseguests he and his wife were expecting.)
It had taken seven days to transform Shapiro. And now that the gala was in full swing, it was obvious to Scolaro and her colleagues that the evening was on a glide path to being an unconditional success. President Schneider and Vermont Gov. Phil Scott gave short speeches. Earlier, when Board of Trustees
Chair Alan DeForest ’75 held the podium, he announced the latest figure from NU’s five-year Forging the Future campaign, $118 million—but not without a dash of showbiz. As the theme song from Mission: Impossible played over the P.A. system, NUCC Mountain Cold Weather Company cadet Arturo Torres ’20 rappelled from the ceiling. Dashing from the far end of the field house to the stage, he handed DeForest a “note” as the final tally $118 million flashed on the huge flat screen behind him.
Dinner, music, talking, and laughter carried the festive air into the night. As the clock passed 9 p.m., guests retreated from their tables like the tide, spilling outside for fireworks. Then—in a blink—the night was over.
Scolaro and some colleagues commandeered a couple of leftover bottles of champagne. They sat at an empty table and reveled in the evening’s success, but only for a short while. Around them, dining services and production company staff stripped tables and broke down stage lighting. In less than an hour, what had taken a week to create was all but gone—the spell of the evening’s magic broken, but not forgotten.