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UNLV Foundation Dinner 2017

Future-themed annual event recognizes the contributions of UNLV's donors.

Campus News  |  Oct 12, 2017  |  By UNLV News Center

An astronaut on stilts welcomed more than 850 guests to the UNLV Foundation Annual Dinner at the Bellagio Monday night. Guests — some of UNLV’s most prominent supporters — came to enjoy a space-themed celebration of UNLV’s 60th Anniversary and a program exploring the university’s past, present and future.

The Foundation also honored new inductees Selma Bartlett and Buck and Aurora Wong to the Palladium Society, whose members have donated $1 million or more to UNLV.

Here are some key takeaways from the star-studded night.


Las Vegas’ star singer Clint Holmes helped attendees honor the victims of the Route 91 shooting tragedy by singing “You Never Walk Alone” at the top of the program. Guests observed a moment of silence and thanked first responders, while UNLV Pres. Len Jessup spoke about the strength and cohesion of the community.


UNLV Foundation Board of Trustees Chairman Greg Lee (left) presented a Palladium award to Aurora and Buck Wong, along with UNLV President Len Jessup.  A video presentation showcased the couple’s support of engineering, which includes a $1 million donation toward a new engineering building. The auditorium in the building will be named in their honor. The Wongs were also recognized for bringing key relationships to UNLV through their company Arcata, including programs with NASA and Lockheed Martin.

“Personally and professionally, I am so grateful to Buck and Aurora Wong for their foresight, generosity, and goodness,” Lee told the crowd. “They are transforming lives through education in many ways.”

Watch Aurora and Buck Wong video.


Jessup presented the Palladium Award to Selma Bartlett. A video presentation showcased Bartlett’s support of engineering student scholarships and allowed several students to thank her.

“Selma’s support of education and her support of UNLV spans decades,” Jessup told the packed ballroom. “She is truly a superstar.”

Watch Selma Bartlett video.


Lee honored Bruce Layne (left)as a new emeritus trustee of the Foundation Board. Layne served on the board for more than 30 years. Layne is also a 2-time UNLV Alumni of the Year, who earned his degree in business in 1969. Former Nevada Gov. Bob Miller, a longtime friend of Layne, honored him in a video presentation.

Watch Bruce Layne tribute video.


Medical student Monica Arebelos gave a touching speech thanking donors for her full scholarship. She also told the crowd about the moment she realized she wanted to be a doctor, when she was a hospice volunteer. “I knew I wanted my life to be about moments like this …  about human compassion.”


Futurists Michio Kaku and Mae Jemison were the keynote speakers. Kaku, a physicist, and Jemison, the first African-American female astronaut to go to space, challenged listeners to think not only about advancements in science and technology, but about the role of education in preparing future generations to handle such discoveries wisely.

“The greatest destroyer of future scientists is junior high,” said Kaku, getting a laugh from the crowd.

“So we have to address that,” Jemison said. “It’s what we decide to do with technology that makes a difference. The perspectives that are brought to bear make a difference.”


Donors enjoyed a tribute to UNLV’s 60th anniversary, showcased in a video that featured several of the Foundation Board Trustees talking about their memories of UNLV, and their hopes for the future. In the video, Board of Trustees member Brian Greenspun said, “I’d like to be here to celebrate UNLV’s 120th birthday, but in case I’m not, Happy 120th birthday, UNLV!”

The space-themed meal was prepared by chefs Roy Ellamar and Mark Sandoval, in coordination with UNLV Hospitality College students, who worked hands-on in planning the event as part of their capstone course.

UNLV Foundation President Scott Roberts reflected on the evening by saying, “It was a superb event, made special by the people who have supported, and continue to support, the growth of the university. I’m very proud to be a part of this community. “

Watch 60th Anniversary video.