Last fall, musician Esperanza Spalding was absolutely delighted to donate her dress, one that she wore to sing for President Obama at his Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, to the Smithsonian Museum of American History. This fall, she was chosen by Smithsonian Magazine to be part of its inaugural American Ingenuity Awards.
On Wednesday night, she entertained the crowd as the award show's final act, giving them a breathy speech and then a breezy song. "Thank you, thank you for all the work that you did and continue to do, whether or not you were going to get an award, thank you for all of those manifestations that you've contributed to the fabric of the world," she said, addressing the other eight honorees.
Among them was high school sophomore Jack Andraka, who pioneered a new test that would provide an early diagnosis for pancreatic cancer. Taking home the Youth Achievement Award, Andraka compelled the audience to use their brains for innovation. "So instead of taking pictures of your food tonight and posting them on Instagram, how about instead ... change the world with your ideas," he suggested. "If a 15-year-old who knew nothing about medicine and didn't even know he had a pancreas could find a new way to detect pancreatic cancer through just using Google and Wikipedia, just imagine what you could do," he added.
The Smithsonian as an institution got plenty of recognition throughout the night too. DonorsChoose.org founder Charles Best, presenting the Education Award to Udacity creator Sebastian Thrun, had the best anecdote. "This is my first time at the National Portrait Gallery but I owe this incredible place a debt of gratitude for facilitating the most unorthodox donation ever received by the charity I'm with, DonorsChoose.org," he began. Best then retold the tale of how comedian Stephen Colbert commissioned a painting of Stephen Colbert and requested that it be hung "in the most prestigious location in the world," which of course was the National Portrait Gallery, where Wednesday night's dinner was held. "They hung Stephen Colbert's portrait of himself in the men's bathroom and Stephen would go on to auction off that very portrait and donate all the proceeds to classroom project requests on DonorsChoose.org -- so for me this is a momentous setting," Best said.