Hundreds of guests of the Friends of the Semel Institute gathered at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel on April 19 for the Great Minds Gala, which raised more than $1 million for the Friends Scholar Program, supporting the research of young scientists at the Semel Institute working to develop innovative treatments for mental and neurological disorders.
Comedian Paula Poundstone emceed the gala, and the legendary Judy Collins performed. UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, Patrick J. Kennedy and the producers of the popular Showtime television show “Homeland,” Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon, were honored for their contributions to reducing stigma surrounding illnesses of the mind and brain.
Deans, faculty and staff from nearly a dozen UCLA schools and departments were among the guests, as well as philanthropists Jane and Terry Semel, Tony and Jeanne Pritzker, Garen and Shari Staglin of Staglin Family Vineyard, Renee and Meyer Luskin, and entertainment executives from FX Networks, Showtime and HBO.
Block was presented with the Friends’ Visionary Award by Sherry Lansing, former Chairman and CEO of Paramount Pictures and a member of the UC Board of Regents, who cited his ongoing leadership at the helm of one of the world’s preeminent research universities. Block is also on faculty in the department of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences, where he conducts research on the neurobiology of circadian rhythms, the neural mechanisms by which organisms adjust sleep and wakefulness to the day and night cycle.
The chancellor congratulated the Friends for “…raising awareness about mental health issues and solutions” through the Friends Scholar Program and other offerings, including the Open Mind lecture and film series.
Maria and Bobby Shriver presented Kennedy — their cousin — with the Humanitarian Award for his continued commitment to mental health issues as the founder of the nonprofit organization, One Mind.
Dr. Nancy Glaser, a psychiatrist and founding president of the board of directors of the Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA, presented “Homeland” producers Gordon and Gansa with the Artistic Award of Courage for their portrayal of bipolar disorder through their show’s protagonist, Carrie Mathison, played by Emmy- and Golden Globe- winner Claire Danes. In accepting the award, Glaser challenged the entertainment community to continue its work in creating characters that spotlight disorders of the mind and brain, while helping to eliminate stigma associated with these illnesses.
“Our four honorees all epitomize the spirit of living a life dedicated to helping improve the lives of others,” said Vicky Goodman, founder and president of the Friends of the Semel Institute. “Sadly, we live in a society that still discriminates against and stigmatizes those with mental illness… Only by supporting innovative research will we begin to alleviate the pain and suffering caused by illnesses of the mind and brain.”
The gifts are part of the Centennial Campaign for UCLA, a $4.2 billon fundraising drive scheduled to conclude in 2019, the university’s 100th anniversary.