It is with excitement – and deep gratitude – that I welcome you to this new program year. We will be building on the remarkable achievements of 2022-2023, made possible thanks to the unwavering dedication and collective efforts of the entire ESU community. The commitment, support and participation of all of you – our Board, Branch leadership, members and friends have been instrumental in transforming aspirations into accomplishments.
This past year was punctuated by three extraordinary events that etched their mark in the annals of our organization's history. Each milestone we reached was a reflection of our shared vision and determination.
Last October we welcomed HRH The Princess Royal to the ESU – the first visit by a member of the Royal Family in nearly forty years. The Gala was a triumph in more ways than one, particularly after it had been cancelled twice due to Covid. We persevered and succeeded. I don't recall a fundraiser bringing in more talent, time and treasure in many, many years.
Another standout accomplishment was the successful return of the ESU National Shakespeare Competition to Lincoln Center in New York. We had an overwhelmingly positive response from students, teachers, and, for the first time, students' families, who were invited to participate. The weekend was so successful that going forward we are determined to amplify our efforts to ensure that more students' families and friends, ESU Board members, Branch leaders and members take part in this thrilling event.
We also brought back the National Patron Tours – a long-standing tradition of engaging our most generous members through exclusive experiences of cultural enrichment, educational exploration, and unforgettable adventures. The celebration of the ESU National Shakespeare Competition's 40th anniversary aboard Queen Mary 2 and in and around London this past July was hugely successful. It was sold out within a month and exceeded even the highest expectations. "Loved it!", "wonderful," "excellent" and "fantastic" were some of the words of praise our intrepid travelers used to describe their experience.
Our other programs also flourished with the Luard Morse, TLab and SSE scholarships, the Evelyn Wrench Speaker Series and the Annual General Conference back in person with more Branches taking part. And as our members again start to meet face to face for local events, they have also embraced the national programs offered virtually such as the Happy Hour Lectures and the new English in Action Across America program that pairs English language learners with ESU member tutors. Through these virtual programs, we bridge geographical barriers and foster a sense of community.
I hope you'll agree with me that the ESU is in a new, better place today than where it was at the onset of the pandemic. We haven't just endured – we've thrived. And I personally find it wonderfully exciting to be part of this new life in our organization. I hope you feel the same.
There is a lot to look forward to in 2024 as we continue on this upward trajectory.
On October 20 to 22 we will all convene in Kansas City, MS, for the 2023 Annual General Conference. Hosted by the ESU Kansas City Branch under the leadership of Mr. Ben Martin, Branch President, and Mr. Jeff Schnabel, former ESU National Board member, the conference, titled "Blueprint for Growth: Unity of Purpose," will discuss innovative approaches to organizational growth in the ESU's second century of service. The conference program will include the ESU 2023 Annual General Meeting, social events, including receptions and meals, breakout sessions, panel discussions, and exciting local tours.
Kansas City itself stands as a remarkable tourist destination offering a diverse array of attractions and experiences. Known for its barbecue, jazz heritage and vibrant downtown, Kansas City seamlessly combines urban sophistication with a warm, welcoming atmosphere.
The ESU Annual General Conference is a wonderful opportunity to connect with - and learn from - fellow members. If you are not an ESU member or have yet to renew your membership this year, I encourage you to seize this moment to do so and be a part of this enriching experience. Your active participation and membership support are invaluable to the ESU community.
With the active support of the ESU Luard Morse Scholarship alumni, we have launched a campaign to ensure that the scholarship program continues and grows. The campaign's goal is to raise enough funds to augment the dedicated endowment fund and provide support for more scholarships. For those of you unfamiliar with the program, the ESU Luard – and since 2012 – Luard Morse Scholarships is one of the ESU's most cherished programs. The $25,000 scholarship offers students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) the unique opportunity to study at a British University of their choice during their junior year. Since 1969, the Scholarship has provided a transformative experience to eighty-eight extraordinary individuals who have become trailblazers in business, government, academia and the arts.
In April we will again gather in New York for the ESU National Shakespeare Competition. Building upon the tremendous success of the 2023 event, we will create another unforgettable weekend. We hope even more families, ESU members, and friends will join us in celebrating the power of Shakespeare's works and the talent and dedication of our young performers.
In June we will celebrate the ESU Andrew Romay New Immigrant Center's 10th anniversary. The Center offers recently arrived immigrants – many of them educated professionals in their native countries - a home-like setting where they can improve their English, learn about American culture, and get guidance to achieve professional and personal success in the U.S. Since its founding, the Center has welcomed and helped more than 2,000 newcomers to America.
A new National Patron Tour, this time in Italy, is also in the works. It will take us to the setting of some of Shakespeare's most captivating plays. Our resident Shakespeare expert will again be Professor Catherine Loomis who was universally praised by all participants in the anniversary Bard's Queens on Board transatlantic crossing and tour this past July. Dr. Loomis's lectures during the Shakespeare in Italy tour will transport us to the heart of Shakespeare's inspiration as we explore Italy's culture through the lens of the Bard's genius.
Finally, I would like to share with you a personally exciting piece of news about a project that is very dear to my heart. Classical Shindig, a book that Michael and I have been working on for the past three years, has finally found its way into the world. In it, Michael and I share our passion for style and our love of bringing people together. The volume is full of photos of our New Orleans Garden District home and the many parties for friends, family and charities we've hosted there.
The ESU features prominently on the book's pages, from the virtual 2020 centennial gala and the October 2022 gala in the presence of HRH The Princess Royal, the tea parties celebrating Christmas and HM Queen Elizabeth's birthday and the Bach and Rach celebration of the ESU's centennial in New Orleans.
We hold the hope that the book will serve as an inspiration to its readers, igniting their creativity for their own future gatherings. We also see this book as an introduction to our organization and a record of significant milestones within its most recent history.
Classical Shindig has also a charitable purpose – we will donate a portion of all sales made on our website (classicalshindig.com) to the ESU. Please use the code ESUCS to activate the donation.
I invite you to the upcoming virtual Happy Hour on September 13, 2023 at 6 pm ET, when Michael and I will share stories from the book. We also look forward to seeing many of you face-to-face as we visit our Branches in Memphis, TN (September 7-8); New Bern, NC (September 17); and Winter Park, FL (January 30, 2024) that are generously hosting in-person book-signing parties. A trip to Paris, France, will allow us to meet our friends there on October 6, 2023. And in the spring we've planned trips to New York, Greenwich CT, and Denver CO.
Dear friends, I invite you to seize the multitude of opportunities in the coming year to re-engage with fellow members and take advantage of the enriching experiences that await us. As we gather, learn, and celebrate together, let's reaffirm our commitment to the ideals that the ESU upholds and continue to strengthen the bonds that make our community so unique.
I look forward to seeing you soon.
With best regards,