I’ve served the National Credit Union Foundation at The Foundation Dinner, its signature fundraising event during CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference where our industry’s finest are honored during the Herb Wegner Memorial Awards, in two ways: first as the event’s photographer from 2015 – 2017, and then as the master of ceremonies from 2018 to present.
Although both roles are very different, they share a singular joy — being keenly aware of the faces in the crowd.
Event photography is as much about anticipation and observation as it is composition: staying in the flow of the event, knowing where the energy and action will be next, getting close enough to capture the moment while not interfering with it. You make every effort to avoid the attention of the crowd.
That’s impossible as the MC. I’m a 6’4″ dad bod in a tuxedo at the front of the room, my copy paper skin tone even more retina-charring under the bright stage lights. I’m an aircraft landing beacon with a script up there.
You can’t miss me, but my job is to keep the focus where it belongs — on the heroic servant leaders who will take the stage and accept their awards.
No matter the capacity in which I get to experience one of my favorite nights of the year, two specific moments always stand out.
The first is watching the audience during the short films about each recipient that run on the massive screens at the front of the room before the presentation of each award. Everyone pays rapt attention to them, the light from each story dancing on every smiling and admiring face.
The tables of the award winners are especially poignant; each of them dabs away tears of joy and laughter as they exchange knowing glances with friends and family nearby, unspoken appreciation of the years of sacrifices, risks, setbacks, and accomplishments that led to this night.
The other is when the winner, at the podium and preparing to give their acceptance speech, pauses to look out on the crowd of nearly 1,000 people, all of them on their feet, their applause thunderous, their cheers jubilant.
The winner’s smile becomes impossibly wider as the celebration washes over them and you see the realization in their eyes: this is really happening, the race is run, the fight is won, well done good and faithful servant. The chords of their life resolve as one and at once. Every chapter of their life story makes sense.
That’s when I realize how much we need so many more of these celebrations.
We’re wired to remember the incomplete and interrupted tasks of our lives better than our achievements. It’s a phenomenon called the Zeigarnik Effect. It’s why our to-do lists are always front and center in our minds, but the details of what we finished are vapor and mist.
Although life isn’t a constant highlight reel and standing ovation, and we were never meant to live on pedestals and summits, that doesn’t mean we can’t visit them often and savor the view of the valley in which we grew.
As we brainstorm, strategize, plan, predict, budget, and edit ourselves through our lists and objectives and initiatives, may we set aside even more of our time and treasure to celebrate the people who helped the people during those long days and short years.
Not all of those soirees need ball gowns, tuxes, and trophies, but some will. That’s good money to spend, though. Maybe the best.
In those gatherings, share good stories about the best of who we were, are, and will become. Magnify the faith, hope, and love that makes this good work possible. These are the moments we’ll miss the most one day. May we never forget them.