Best Pep Rally Ever! Shortly after 3 p.m. on October 12, Lawrenceville students, faculty and staff began streaming into the School’s field house from all sides, quickly filling the arena floor as they gathered to thank Joe Tsai ’82 for his landmark gift.
In June, Lawrenceville announced that it had received its largest gift ever from Joseph C. Tsai ’82, executive vice chairman of Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba and a member of the School’s Board of Trustees, and his wife Clara, through the Joe and Clara Tsai Foundation. Joe and Clara designated much of their gift to the construction of a new field house and dining center complex to replace the current facilities, which are 66 and 45 years old respectively, with the remainder going to support Lawrenceville’s endowment.
The School took the opportunity of Joe’s presence on campus for the fall Board meetings to thank him in grand style.
Waving rally towels and sporting pins emblazoned with “JOE! Lville Thanks Joe,” and holding up “Thank You Joe” and “Go Big Red” signs and fatheads with Joe’s image, the crowd welcomed him to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” on loudspeakers. The cheering only intensified when Lawrenceville’s “Dog Pound” took over, leading the students in their traditional chant of “Lawrenceville Is Wonderful.”
A podium on the second-floor balcony was flanked by 12-foot-tall red and black balloon towers, with a backdrop bearing the School seal. Flags of every House hung from the balcony railing, nine on either side of the podium, separated by a giant banner, still rolled up, in the center. Hanging from the railings along the sides of the arena were 5-foot by 8-foot photo banners of Joe as a Lawrenceville student, Joe and Clara, and Joe today.
Head Master Steve Murray H’55 ’65 ’16 P’16 ’21 reminded the students of the scope of Joe and Clara’s gift and emphasized its importance to the School. “This gift makes it possible for us to focus our resources on other aspects of the strategic plan, so it will have a great impact on many parts of the School and every member of our community.”
Board President Michael Chae ’86 echoed a message Murray had delivered earlier this year at School Meeting. “What happens at Lawrenceville is profoundly important,” Michael reiterated. “Our mission as a school is important. I don’t think it’s an overstatement, given the leadership roles many of you will one day assume, to say that what you will take from your Lawrenceville experience has the potential to change the world.” He cited Joe as a Lawrentian who has changed the world, and who has now decided to give back to Lawrenceville.
“I know I speak for everyone here in expressing our deepest gratitude,” said Michael before inviting Joe to the podium.
Joe took the podium to thunderous applause. “I love the music and I love these fatheads – the last time I saw fatheads like these was at a basketball game and the image was Steph Curry,” he said, inspiring laughter and another round of cheering from the students. “I’m speechless,” he added.
“People ask me what’s the meaning behind my giving to Lawrenceville,” he continued. “It’s based on the two things I remember most. Number one is the food. Number two is athletics.”
He recalled visiting Lawrenceville, among other schools, as a 13-year-old from Taiwan and being very impressed with the food. “It’s why I came to Lawrenceville,” he said, suggesting the perspective of a teenager. His embrace of athletics once he arrived became a way to cope with the otherwise intimidating environment of an all-boys American boarding school. He saw his active participation in sports – varsity football and lacrosse, House basketball – as a way to integrate himself into the Lawrenceville community.
“Food is the reason I came to Lawrenceville and athletics is the reason I’m here today,” he said. “These two things have very special meaning to me.”
Joe made a point of highlighting the great functionality of the existing field house and the nostalgia it evokes, but he recognizes the issues associated with a 66-year-old building. Calling its replacement “bittersweet,” he acknowledged that the plan for a new field house and dining complex is also about community, a significant piece of Head Master Steve Murray’s strategy for taking Lawrenceville into the future.
“I hope it (the new facility) will be a place of community,” he emphasized. “I fondly remember the sense of place and sense of community I felt here.”
Saying how “incredibly touched I am to see you all here,” Joe cited the Cleve boys, his former Circle House, in their green jackets, and thanked Steve, the faculty, and the trustees for the tribute. “I’m thrilled to be here and to support the School.”
But the celebration wasn’t over. Tripp Welborne brought Michael Chae and Board Vice President Whitney Hailand Brown ’91 to the podium to help unroll the giant banner affixed to the balcony. A huge roar went up from the crowd as it dropped down to reveal, “Lawrenceville Thanks Joe!” Amid the waving of rally towels and signs, Athletic Director Tripp Welborne P’21 led multiple cheers of “Thank you, Joe!”
The cheering paused only when Tripp and School President Brianne Thompson ’18 presented Joe with a lacrosse and football letter sweater to replace the one he’d lost and a special jersey bearing his class year. The cheers rose again when Tripp and the crowd urged Joe to “Put it on! Put it on!”
Donning the jersey to even more enthusiastic cheers, Joe was led by the team captains down the steps and through a “spirit tunnel” created by a horseshoe of students, organized by House, spanning the arena floor. With high five’s all around and Tony Bennett singing “Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe” over the loudspeaker, Joe made his way through the hundreds of Lawrentians eager to greet him. Ending with Cleve House, he returned to the balcony.
More cheers followed, led first by Tripp and then the Dog Pound, before the students were dismissed to the exits, where the celebration continued with cookies and bottles of “Joe!” labeled water to go.
At dinner that evening, students were able to pose with “Thank You, Joe!” and “Go Big Red” signs at a photo booth in Irwin Dining Hall, and the menu included a variety of Joe-themed foods. Of course, the day would not have been complete without special red-and-black “Joe!” iced cupcakes to top it off.
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