Leaders from Chicago’s philanthropic community came together at Shedd Aquarium on Saturday, May 18 to support the aquarium’s vision. Shedd stresses the importance of ensuring the world has a thriving aquatic life for generations to come.
The black-tie gala, Reflections, was hosted by the aquarium’s board of trustees and co-chairs Hilary and Lloyd Semple alongside Honorary Chair Marian Phelps Pawlick. Marian is the first female chair of the board of trustees and Shedd’s inaugural gala chair. The evening raised nearly $2 million to advance Shedd’s mission of sparking conservation, curiosity and compassion for the aquatic world.
“This is more than just a fundraiser, it’s a celebration of our founder’s inspired vision to bring the world to Chicago, married with today’s vision of a world thriving with aquatic life, sustained by people who love, understand and protect it,” Shedd president and chief executive officer Dr. Bridget Coughlin said. “The generosity of our like–minded supporters, who are animal enthusiasts and nature lovers, help us advance our vision. Together, we can make a difference for our blue planet.”
Guests began their night by walking through Shedd’s south lobby, adorned with giant mirrored décor and installations to play into the event’s theme and the silver jubilee anniversary. As they continued inside, attendees were greeted with opportunities to look nature in the eye with a diverse and surprising array of animal encounters. The event featured two species of penguins, the rescued red-tailed hawk and owl, a sea urchin, jelly ephyra, a caiman lizard, a blue-tongued skink and more. Starting with a bubbly cocktail, guests made their way through the Abbott Oceanarium and treated themselves to “Oysters with the Otters” where they enjoyed delicious sustainably sourced seafood near the Regenstein Sea Otter Habitat and even learned how to shuck oysters using their hands as tools, just like the otters.
All attendees then made their way to a special aquatic presentation titled, “Tomorrow Starts Tonight.” A dynamic musical performance by Musicality — a local West Chicago musical group featured on America’s Got Talent — kicked off the show and was followed by a call-to-action from Dr. Bridget Coughlin and co-chairs Hilary and Lloyd Semple. There was also a delightful and stunning aquatic presentation — with a finale that included California sea lions, Pacific white-sided dolphins, green-winged macaws and more — that preceded a vigorous paddle race to support Shedd’s marine and freshwater research, animal rescue efforts across the globe, accessibility efforts and more.
A surprise final musical number rang in the end of the paddle raise, and as the show concluded, guests ascended into the main galleries of the aquarium for dinner.
Among the rippling reflections of shimmering fish, the dinner and service — donated in part by Sodexo —commenced with an ahi tuna poke first course served in a seashell. Next, guests were served filet and sustainably sourced king prawns or a Mediterranean vegetable Neapolitan. A sparkly dessert cake pop and coffee service signaled the conclusion of dinner, but that did not mean the night was over.
From there, attendees were encouraged to choose their own adventure. They could choose from:
Capturing the moment with a wild reef photo
Taking in the aquarium’s newest special exhibit, Underwater Beauty, which was presented by Citadel
Dancing the night away to the True Blue Band, or relaxing in the jazz lounge with the William Boris Trio under the twinkling stars
Visiting dessert and snack stations to enjoy donuts flambé and other toppings for ice cream
Reflections was presented by GATX and sponsored by AbbVie, Bank of America and more.