Steven Spielberg, founder of USC Shoah Foundation – The Institute for Visual History and Education, and his wife Kate Capshaw presented Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks with the Institute’s 2018 Ambassadors for Humanity Award at the organization’s annual gala Monday night in Los Angeles.

Oprah, Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson

Comedian Martin Short hosted the event, which featured remarks from special guest Oprah Winfrey and a musical performance from Melissa Etheridge.

From education and the arts, to healthcare, women’s issues, underserved children and the needs of veterans and their families, Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks are champions of many vital efforts. They have been steadfast supporters of USC Shoah Foundation for more than two decades, helping to further the Institute’s mission to develop empathy, understanding and respect through eyewitness testimony.

Kate Capshaw, Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg

The show began with a powerful introduction from Oprah Winfrey, who took time to acknowledge each of the honorees and the impactful work they’ve done to educate and inspire change in their communities. The night was filled with poignant moments and speeches, punctuated with humor from the evening’s host.

“Their commitment to veterans, in particular, dovetails with the Institute’s mission to give voice to the many men and women of World War II whose stories of heroism are represented in our Visual History Archive,” Spielberg said. “Rita and Tom quietly and consistently leverage their artistry and talents to inform and inspire positive change in the world.”

Wilson and Hanks’ acceptance speech offered thanks to their fellow honorees, along with their friends and hosts Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw. They stressed the necessity of organizations like the Shoah Foundation amidst the current political climate. “We don’t know what’s going to happen [on election day],” said Hanks, “but we do know that we have an engine, a motor, that gives us the guide to join in the mission of Shoah Foundation and form a more perfect union.”

Of meeting the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School before the ceremony, they said, “we wish we were not meeting them. We wish they were just anonymous kids from Parkland, Florida. But the fact that they are here and sharing their story by way of, and through, the Shoah Foundation, is just another testimony of their work and the extraordinary strength and courage of those students.”

The Ambassadors for Humanity event is a crucial part of the Institute’s efforts, helping to forge partnerships and to raise essential unrestricted funds that sustain the organization into the future.

The Gala’s call to action this year was USC Shoah Foundation’s Stronger Than Hate initiative. This effort dramatically scales the Institute’s proven testimony-based resources to meet the needs of educators on the front lines dealing with the rising crises of hatred.

Ivy Schamis, a Holocaust and social studies teacher from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, who uses the Institute’s IWitness educational platform in her classroom, received the organization’s inaugural Stronger Than Hate Educator Award at the event. She was joined by some of her students who were among the survivors of the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting at their school.

“Each of this year’s honorees embody USC Shoah Foundation’s mission of remembrance,” said Wanda M. Austin, interim president of the University of Southern California. “We were delighted to recognize Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks, as well as Ivy Schamis, for their efforts to foster compassion and understanding. The Institute is an integral part of USC, and we are proud to join our trustee, Steven Spielberg, and Kate Capshaw in advancing its important work.”

Stephen Smith, USC Shoah Foundation Finci-Viterbi Endowed Executive Director, lauded Schamis for her longstanding commitment to Holocaust education.

“Ivy is an inspirational educator who engages students to recognize injustices when they occur, and to become active participants in society,” he said. “Teachers like Ivy are at the forefront of our mission of teaching empathy and tolerance to future generations. It is an honor to share this special evening with her.”

Also present were several liberators and liberation witnesses to the atrocities of the Holocaust. These special guests were recognized with the support of the Ford Motor Co., who helped bring them to the event.

Doug Darrow, senior vice president, Cinema Busness Group Dolby Laboratories, the Presenting Sponsor of the evening, praised the Institute’s use of technology to pursue its mission of using the voices of the past to create a more peaceful future.

“Dolby creates amazing audio and imaging technologies to enhance storytelling,” he said. “USC Shoah Foundation’s use of technology to record and share IWitness testimonies as an educational tool is a profound use of the medium. Dolby is proud to lend its voice to the Stronger Than Hate initiative, as it shares these important stories and experiences with the world.”

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