Virtual Blue and Gold Gala Builds Community and Raises Record-Breaking Funds


Putting on a gala during a pandemic is no easy feat. But this year’s Blue and Gold Committee and advancement team saw challenges as opportunities, creating an exceptional event that not only raised funds for Santa Margarita Catholic High School and its students but also celebrated the Eagle community.

On Saturday, Nov. 7, Santa Margarita Catholic High School held its first virtual gala, Blue and Gold – Come Fly With Us, bringing together supporters near and far.

“Our hearts are so longing for community, and we thank God for the community we find at SM in our homes tonight,” said school chaplain Rev. Tim Donovan as he opened up the program with prayer.

Blue and Gold raised a record-breaking amount of $339,484, $130,600 of which was donated to tuition assistance through the fund-a-student portion of the evening. More than 520 passengers boarded flights for the virtual event.

“My heartfelt thanks to everyone who went above and beyond and for the courage and innovation to make this event happen,” said SMCHS President Andy Sulick '91. “The SM students will be the direct beneficiaries of everyone’s hard work and support. During these uncertain times, Catholic schools continue to provide excellence in Catholic education and the opportunity to form deep and lasting connections and grow in faith. In a world filled with unknowns, Catholic schools remain vital to our young people helping them discover their God-given talents and individual paths to success.”


As with any flight, there were many moving parts. Led by co-chairs and Santa Margarita parents Heather Bandura and Ann Marie Jennison, the event included a symphony of sponsors, underwriters, donors, and dedicated and creative volunteers and SMCHS employees who enabled the event to soar.

“From the very first think-tank Zoom call in June, our goal with Blue and Gold was to focus first on community and second on fundraising. During a time when our community was not only physically separated but also spiritually and mentally, we wanted to create an inclusive event that allowed people to celebrate the Eagle spirit while also adhering to safety guidelines, personal comfort levels and the unpredictability of the unknown. The hybrid event concept allowed us to plan for one event with easy-to-modify elements should the ‘flight’ need to detour based on safety guidelines and health concerns," said Bandura.

Party-in-a-box packages were personally delivered to attendees before the event, complete with everything needed for a special night at home, including table décor, a recommended music playlist, and other décor representing their assigned flight destination. On the day of the event, guests picked up fresh flowers, their passport program guide and a delectable four-course meal generously prepared by Hanna’s Restaurant and Bar.

“I come from a hardworking, humble and faithful family,” said Dave Hanna, proprietor of Hanna’s, in a video to attendees calling on them to come together to make a difference in the lives of students. “My parents made it a priority to send all four children to parochial school, and at the time, I didn’t understand the sacrifice. Today, I sure am grateful. As a small business owner, my Catholic education guides all my daily decisions. Over the past 30 years, I have hired and worked alongside hundreds of Santa Margarita students. I can attest to their character, work ethic, respectfulness and kindness.For our young adults, navigating the world has never been more challenging with all the social media, external pressure and noise. That is why

I believe that if a child wishes to pursue a Catholic education, it is our duty as a community to make it happen.”

Touching student videos by Charlie Jennison '23, Ava Badura '23, Milad Tajalli '22 and SMCHS legacies Madeleine Wagner ’22 and Lance Laster ’24 helped launch the evening program – streamed live from the school’s ETV 2.0 studio with students helping to produce the event from the studio’s control room.

"We are here to prepare for flight. In this case, the flight is life,” said Tajalli. “We may experience some turbulence, but it’s nothing SM hasn’t prepared us for.”

Elizabeth Bork '22 entertained the virtual audience with her soulful rendition of “Come Fly With Me” filmed at the Lyon Air Museum, founded by Major General William Lyon, a school founder who passed away this year at the age of 97.


The evening also included a silent auction, live auction, buy-in parties, Gorjana jewelry draw,  opportunity drawing and fund-a-student, a powerful part of the evening where attendees join forces to raise money for tuition assistance. One of every four students depends on tuition assistance to attend SMCHS. This year, SMCHS will award more than $2.9 million in tuition assistance. SMCHS graduate Will Watson ’99 spoke to viewers about how the gift of tuition assistance forever changed the course of his life.

“Without that road I took to SM, I honestly don’t know where I would be,” said Watson, who shared his story from Towanda, Kan. where he lives with his four sons, two dogs and wife. Growing up in South Central Los Angeles, Watson’ parents were out of the picture when he was a young boy. The last day of eighth grade, he was dropped off at a shelter. At 15, Watson knew if there was one place he wasn’t going to go, it was back to South Central Los Angeles. Watson moved into a group home and a gift of  tuition assistance provided him the opportunity to attend Santa Margarita.

“Essentially Santa Margarita affected my life by changing it completely,” Watson said, crediting Santa Margarita for opening doors for him to attend the Air Force Academy where he went on to become a pilot now serving in the U.S. Air Force Reserves – do I have this correct?. “My road turned into a highway when I went to Santa Margarita. There is always a road when you work hard enough, but I had so many more lanes by going to Santa Margarita.”

During the program, school founder Tony Moiso, who now has three grandchildren at the school, offered his well wishes in a video to attendees.

“Part of the magic formula for the success of Santa Margarita Catholic High School has been the generosity of the school community,” he said.


Heartfelt gratitude is extended to Blue and Gold chairwomen, Heather Bandura and Ann Marie Jennison, for taking on this challenge more than five months ago. These women, with the support of their dedicated Blue and Gold Committee, the Advancement Office and other SMCHS staff including members of the broadcast journalism program, information technology and communications offices, were able to help pull off an extraordinary event in uncharted territory.

“Not only did we reach our goal of community building among SM parents and supporters in a time that it is much needed, but we also came together to raise funds to support all students at the school, “ said Ann Marie Jennison. “I hope that years from now, when we reflect on 2020, the Blue and Gold guests will smile at the memory of their flight aboard Eagle Air!”

“The night was a true inspiration!” echoed Principal Cheri Wood. “The strength of SM continues to be our community, and Blue and Gold was a testament to that. We have so much to be thankful for as God continues to bestow His blessing upon our school.”

Thank you for flying with SMCHS and allowing Eagles to soar!