VALPARAISO | The inside of the giant white party tent on Valparaiso University's Brown Field was indistinguishable from a posh nightclub at the 150th Anniversary Gala on Saturday evening.
Guests mingled in a candlelight pre-dinner cocktail hour, while the student acapella group, VuVox, wowed partygoers.
Nearly 400 university friends and staff attended the lavish event, emceed by Tony Award-winning actor, John Lithgow.
Lithgow, a Harvard University graduate, said he learned VU has been called "the Harvard of the Midwest."
"I went to Harvard, and we used to call ourselves the Valparaiso of New England," said Lithgow, to audience laughter. "I am really moved that you invited me to share and help celebrate your anniversary," said Lithgow, who originally is from Ohio. "I feel very much like I've come home today."
VU President Mark Heckler lauded Lithgow -- the son of a college professor -- as an actor who "truly believes in higher education" and thanked the audience for their participation in the history of the university.
"You are some of the world's most outstanding people and we're proud you are a part of us," Heckler said.
Guests enjoyed a four-course gourmet meal and the stylings of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Many were happy to reconnect with old friends.
"This looks like a wonderful evening," said Lafayette resident Charles R. Vaughan, a VU law school graduate, who attended with his wife, Tudi. "I'm hoping to find some members of my class tonight."
Bob Wichlinski, of Valparaiso, a 1982 graduate of VU, said he was "looking forward to spending time with friends and fellow classmates."
"They've done a wonderful job," said Wichlinski. "It's the culmination of a lot of people's hard work, and I'm happy to be a part of it. I'm ecstatic that it's here at the university."
VU board member and Valparaiso resident Harley Snyder said having the celebration at VU rather than in Chicago "demonstrates the sensitivity of the administration to the city and the state of the economy."
"I know how important this university is to this city," Snyder said.
"Valparaiso University is not part of this community -- Valparaiso University is the community."
Martha Hessler, of Cleveland, Ohio, and Judy Beumer, of St. Louis, have strong ties to VU.
"We both graduated from here, we both met our husbands here, we both had children here, and both our husbands are board members," Beumer said.
Hessler said she was thrilled by all the milestones the university has celebrated.
"It's very exciteing to see what's going on here," Hessler said. "You think they've reached the pinnacle, and then there's more."
Despite the changes over the years, Beumer said she feels a comforting sense of the familiar.
"The spirit is still alive and well," Beumer said. "Valpo is the still the Valpo we knew."