Gala event held to benefit tuition-free Promise

Hollywood actress and former San Diego Mesa College student Annette Bening spoke at a benefit of San Diego Promise.


Annette Bening headlined an event that raised over $120,000 for the San Diego Promise. Photo by Jonny Rico

Jonny Rico, Editor-in-Chief

Beef short ribs, cedar plank salmon and stuffed acorn squash were the dinner options for over 150 guests at the San Diego Natural History Museum on Thursday, Sept. 20.

However, the main entree of the evening was a speech by Hollywood actress Annette Bening, accompanied by a side of inspirational stories from community college students.

The San Diego Community College District organized the event “An evening with Annette Bening” as a way to raise funds for its San Diego Promise program. Promise offers qualifying students the opportunity to attend any of its three campuses tuition-free for the first two years.

Emcee Artie Ojeda
NBC San Digo’s Artie Ojeda, the former Editor-in-Chief while a student at City College, emceed the Promise Gala on Sept. 20. Photo by Jonny Rico.

“The reason why its so important to me is because I went to (San Diego) Mesa College and I got so much out of it,” said Bening in an interview before the event. “It wasn’t just the theater program— and it was a great theater program — it was all the other stuff as well.

“I had to take my math requirement, and I’m terrible at math, and there was a math class for people who hated math, literally. The poetry class I took, the woman’s studies, because I was at Mesa in the late 70s so it was the time of the women’s movement, … that made a big impression on me.”

Bening graduated from Patrick Henry High School in San Diego in 1975, then continued her education at Mesa College. She eventually transferred from the community college to San Francisco State University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre.

“It was the right step for me and then going on to San Francisco State, which at the time was also very inexpensive,” Bening said. “It was virtually free then, too.”

Bening reminisced about the days when higher education did not cost as much. She now believes work must be done to get back to those levels.

City College student Rosemary Leyva
City College student Rosemary Leyva was one three students to share their stories at the San Diego Promise Gala on Sept. 20. Photo by Jonny Rico.

Rosemary Leyva one of the San Diego Promise students who was at the gala. She is used to speaking to others about the program, but what Leyva was not accustomed to was the size of the crowd.

“It was nerve-wracking,” she said. “Speaking in front of so many important people, it was hard not to get teary-eyed.”

Leyva is in her second year at San Diego City College working on a nursing degree. She plans to transfer to Point Loma Nazarene University to finish a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

“I just want to help my community and give back,” she said.

Guests at the event were given the opportunity to donate to a community college program that makes education more accessible. Rene McKee of CalCoast Credit Union said she and her organization donates because they wants to stick to their core values and investing in the students and teachers is the right thing to do.

“CalCoast Credit Union was actually established by teachers in 1929 from the San Diego Unified School District,” McKee said. “Because of that, we’ve stayed close to our roots.”

District chancellor Dr. Constance Carroll capped the night by presenting Bening with three gifts: a Promise t-shirt, a Mesa sweatshirt and a yearly scholarship that the district will offer in honor of the actress.

According to district officials, the fundraiser brought in over $120,000, surpassing its initial $100,000 goal.