BY TIFFANY BENJAMIN
Last Thursday, over 500 students gathered in Austin Hall to bid on items at the tenth annual Public Interest Auction. Following a “Harvard Goes Hollywood” theme, this year’s auction was full of glitz and glamour, although the sheen of riches did not translate into more funds raised.
The Public Interest Auction is a completely student-run event that helps to fund students doing summer public interest work. Those seeking summer funding are required to devote six hours to auction-related work in order to qualify for the summer funding. This year’s auction raised a total of $117,000 for these students.
“Last year I think they raised $120,000. Raising only three thousand fewer dollars in an economy that is far worse is pretty impressive. I think that we were so happy because it went off without a single hitch,” said 1L Richa Gulati, auction co-chair.
“Without that funding, 1Ls would be severely limited in their options for summer experiences that are incredible. The event itself shows the entire community and all alumni how committed the student body is to public interest, which is extremely important for future funding by the school,” said 3L Ashley Martabano, who served as chair of the Public Interest Auction Committee her 1L year.
The evening began at 5:30 p.m. with the silent auction. Students, faculty and guests bid on hundreds of items, ranging from a giant tower of rice krispie treats to an autographed copy of the Bush v. Gore Supreme Court brief to a viola concert by Prof. Joseph Singer to an aerial tour of Massachusetts’ north shore. Students were able to pick up their prizes at the end of the evening.
“I was impressed by how organized the silent auction was and by how many students participated. There was an array of prizes from so many places and people,” said 1L Heather Lonian.
The highlight of the evening for many was the live auction, where over $20,000 was raised in less than two hours. Prof. David Barron and Dean-designate Elena Kagan acted as the night’s auctioneers.
“It was so much fun because the energy in the room was incredible. It felt like it was crammed full of people. It actually felt like the community event we wanted. We felt like it was a celebration kind of atmosphere,” said Gulati.
The highest ticket items of the night were two poker games with Kagan, which sold for $1,600 each.
“Apparently I shouldn’t be allowed to bid at auctions,” said 1L Kate Ferguson, who won two tickets and backstage passes to a Rolling Stones concert for $1,050. “It’s very easy to get caught up in the momentum and to blow through your reserve prices, thinking that if you go just a little bit higher, you’ll win. A little bit quickly turned into a lot.”
Other items auctioned off included a $500 sweet potato pie made by Prof. Charles Ogletree, two gourmet French dinners with Lecturer Virginia Wise – one for students, auctioned off at $700, and one for non-students, for $1,100. A concert by the Scales of Justice was purchased by Dean Robert Clark for $800 and a weekend in the Virginia mountains brought a winning bid of $1,100.
“The auction is one of few events on campus that, in my opinion, gives students a real sense of community at HLS. It brings all of the class years and the faculty together for one great event,” said 2L Wade Ackerman, Law School Council president, who auctioned off a day of his servitude for $300 at the live auction. “I didn’t mind standing up to be auctioned off, but I was a little worried that my friends might bid for me, resulting in a day of service that I would not be looking forward to.”
During the live auction, the finalists for the 2003 Gary Bellows Public Service Award were also announced. This year, 3Ls Leah Barron, Faisal Chaudhry, Daniel Gluck, Jaskaran Kaur and Gary Slossberg were the student nominees. Jessica Budnitz, Miriam Gohara, Julia Harrington, Mary Beth Musumeci and Brad Sears were the alumni nominees.
“The Gary Bellow Award honors the work and the working style of Gary Bellow by recognizing and honoring innovative public service work of HLS student and alumni,” said 2L Matt Mazur, member of the Gary Bellow Public Service Award committee. “One of the purposes of the award is to recognize those who haven’t yet received awards. The Gary Bellow Award can be a kind of encouragement to people in the initial stages of their careers.”
Students, alumni and faculty nominated those whom they felt best exemplified the spirit of Gary Bellow’s work. Students will vote in the coming weeks to choose the winners. Mazur noted that the award and the auction go hand-in-hand in their promotion of legal public interest work.
Organizers were pleased with this year’s auction. “We really achieved our two major goals which were to bring the Harvard community together to celebrate public interest work and to raise money for summer public interest funding. I think it was a great success,” said 1L Andrew Krause, auction co-chair.
Gulati said that her personal goals for those who attended and who volunteered were also met. “I wanted them to leave with the sense that public interest work is important and that it’s supported by a community of people at Harvard – that there are students who care, that there are faculty and alumni who care. We wanted something that was a way for a bunch of 1Ls to put a project together and feel like they could get something done.” In the end, Gulati said that the event’s growth was one of the most impressive features of the auction.
“When it started, it was a really small event. Every year it seems to get bigger. A couple of students decided it was a great idea in 1994 and now it’s part of the HLS experience.”