This year's White House Correspondents' Dinner (WHCD) is poised to be a strange one, as President Donald Trump has opted to skip the glamorized event. The sitting president's satirical, comedic speech is traditionally the centerpiece of the Washington, D.C. dinner, so Trump's absence will mean a significant programming void. To this end, the focus will pivot more heavily toward journalism scholarship and award winners than it has in the recent past — so, instead of focusing on the president's speech this Saturday, audience members and viewers may want to know what the WHCD scholarship recipients actually get.
Because Trump has decided to feed his ego by hosting a rally in Pennsylvania on the night of the dinner, the organization that hosts it, the White House Correspondents' Association (WHCA), is going to have to pull other punches. "There may be a couple of surprises," WHCA president Jeff Mason recently said, according to The Hill. "But the main thrust of the dinner is focusing on the First Amendment and highlighting our scholarship winners and our award winners."
It's a big change for an evening that in the past has drawn such such celebrities as George Clooney, John Legend, and Kendall Jenner. But one of the main reasons that the dinner even exists is to raise money for college scholarships — so returning the focus to these winners isn't entirely out of left field.
This year, 23 student journalists will be recognized at the dinner. These students attend the respected journalism institutions of Columbia University, the George Washington University, Howard University, Northwestern University, Ohio University, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Maryland and the University of Missouri. Their scholarships alone won't make a major dent in their tuition or other school fees, but this impressive bunch can also celebrate their accomplishments in earning these prestigious scholarships.
There's Riham Alkousaa, for example, who hails from Damascus, Syria, and won $5,000 to put toward earning her second MA at Columbia's journalism school. With his experience in television, high fashion, celebrity interviews, photography, restaurant reviews and marketing, Howard University junior Anthony B. Brown is taking home the $7,000 Harry S. McAlpin, Jr. Scholarship. Sawsan Morrar, who is pursuing a post-graduate degree in the government and public affairs reporting track at the University of California, Berkeley, was awarded $5,000 to do it. The list goes on.
The White House Correspondents' Dinner is technically a fundraising event that gained cultural prominence during President Barack Obama's terms in office. But as it has attracted more and more star power and media attention — and therefore ballooning assets for the WHCA (up 81 percent, to $602,650 between 2012 and 2015)— the association now spends a significantly smaller percentage of its assets on scholarships, according to Washingtonian. In 2015, the association spent $86,550, or 23.6 percent of its revenue, on scholarships. In 2009, the figure was 60 percent of total revenue spent on scholarships.
But Mason said that measuring a proportion spent on scholarships isn't an accurate representation of how the WHCA functions. "Our budget finances a lot, including our staff support for all of the work our board members do year-round for members of the WHCA, including Washingtonian," Mason wrote in an email toWashingtonian. "Measuring the amount of scholarships as a share of our budget alone does not reflect our entire mission or the work we do for members."
Regardless of exact figures, it's undeniable that the WHCA is doing admirable work in nurturing the next generation of journalists. On Saturday night, tune in to show your support as well.