On March 26, Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter JP Saxe made a virtual visit to the Wellesley community. Taking the time to perform an acoustic concert and answer student and fan questions, Saxe’s appearance via Zoom was the latest in a series entitled “Wellesley x Hollywood” by Wellesley for UNICEF, an org on campus. These events have consisted of a number of celebrities who called in to speak with Wellesley students to benefit UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, who personally choose which of the Fund’s missions to directly support.
Saxe elected to donate the proceeds to UNICEF’s Sustainable Development Goal for Gender Equality, and at 8:30 p.m., sat down from his home for an hour of music and conversation. The effort raised $1,000 for the organization and was attended by Wellesley students, as well as a number of Saxe’s core fanbase who joined from around the world. The panel’s chat function was lively from the start, with participants requesting their favorite songs, offering silent applause and having conversations with Saxe and each other. After a year without concerts, it felt natural to be in that environment; though physically apart, attendees were able to feel connected to one another and the artist.
Saxe played a number of new and fan-favorite songs acoustic, with just him singing and strumming along on a guitar. One highlight was an unreleased song from his upcoming album, after which he revealed he had never played during a livestream before. Other songs, like “25 in Barcelona” and “3 Minutes,” made the evening feel like a bona fide live show. All of this, of course, led up to a rendition of Saxe’s biggest hit single, “If the World Was Ending,” which topped the charts in 2020 and was written by Saxe with his girlfriend and collaborator, Julia Michaels.
Between songs, Cristiana DeAgazio ’24 and Suzanna Schofield ’24, both members of Wellesley for UNICEF, mediated a Q&A featuring questions submitted by audience members during the stream. Prompted by the students, Saxe talked about touring, dream collaborations, his experience at the Grammys and what it is like to find success during a pandemic. Conversation was often lighter as well — Saxe shared stories about his recent quarantine birthday celebration, his favorite boba and matcha-flavored popcorn.
The entire event felt intimate, like we were just a group of friends hanging out and playing music together. Saxe was candid, even taking time to say hello to fans he recognized from social media between stories. Seeing fellow Wellesley students participating in the chat and asking questions was heartwarming; it was simultaneously an opportunity for community building and a chance to give back to the wider world.
Before the event, DeAgazio and Schofield, who worked to organize the concert, spoke about what it took to put on a series like Wellesley x Hollywood. Starting in September, they both joined Wellesley for UNICEF e-board, then met one-on-one before immediately getting the ball rolling on event planning. Following a successful virtual fundraiser with other Boston-area colleges, they realized the organization “had a lot of outreach … much more potential than” previously thought.
From there, the pair began brainstorming and outreach. The process was entirely remote, as Schofield was on-campus and DeAgazio was off-campus. DeAgazio called the experience “really fun. We would sit on Zoom … and I would say ‘I’m about to call so-and-so’s manager.’” From there, they would build off one another’s ideas and enthusiasm, encouraging further outreach. “We refused to say that any person was impossible.,” continued DeAgazio. It was a matter of taking a situation as difficult and limiting as the COVID-19 pandemic and turning it into something enjoyable and memorable.
By October, DeAgazio and Schofield estimated they had sent out about 150 different emails to managers, publicists and agents to try to set up events. “It was cool because, like, some of them would tell us things … no one [in the general public] knew about,” Schofield described. “It was really cool engagement with those types of people.” It was after their first contact that they began really planning what would eventually become the Wellesley x Hollywood series.
Their first event featured actor Drew Seeley on December 21, 2020, following a three-week planning process. DeAgazio and Schofield repeatedly mentioned how much publicizing they did in advance of these events. They reached out to nearly 300 local and global UNICEF Clubs, Wellesley College students and their social media followers to sell tickets. They were surprised to find it to be “the most difficult” of all the steps of the process — “pubbing kind of lasts until the moment the Zoom starts,” as DeAgazio put it. Nonetheless, they pulled it off. A week later, they did it again with Zuzanna Szadkowski of “Gossip Girl” fame.
The immense success of the Wellesley x Hollywood events and the pair’s ability to organically promote their fundraising made them well-known not just across the UNICEF fundraising community, but even within UNICEF itself. They shared how management at the non-profit used their event structure as an example at a meeting, reflecting just how successful and streamlined they made the process.
Both Schofield and DeAgazio were extremely excited about having JP Saxe on board, because they have deep emotional attachments to his music. Planning was meticulous, as management was trying to juggle Saxe’s Grammy commitments with his appearance for the fundraiser. The students worked with Saxe’s manager to plan a setlist, schedule the event and publicize. “We knew about it for a long time, but the planning process didn’t really start until two or three weeks [before the event]” DeAgazio explained. Since they had the experience of past events, working with such a big name was not daunting; it was just the same steps repeated on a larger scale.
Neither DeAgazio nor Schofield plans on entering event planning professionally after Wellesley, but they feel they learned a lot about communication from the experience, which they are looking forward to bringing to the other student orgs they are involved in. The experience helped DeAgazio and Schofield push the limits of what they thought was possible for themselves and the Wellesley community — realizing they “can push” any event “tenfold” has driven the two to undertake bigger endeavors and dream of more large-scale events for the future. This confidence and support is something they extend back to other “Wellesley students, who are already drowning in homework.” They encourage their peers to think big and bring their ideas “to the entire country” instead of the handful of people in their immediate vicinity.
The biggest lesson they learned was a poignant piece of advice all students should hear; as Schofield put it, “don’t wait for the door to open. … If you want to go do something and someone says no, just go do it.” Having the confidence to continue with their vision despite dismissal from mentors and peers, the students realized they could not wait for others to tell them how to do it.
It was inspiring to hear about DeAgazio’s and Schofield’s motivation and dedication to the communities they believe in. Though JP Saxe’s appearance was the last in the Wellesley x Hollywood series, the success of the night proves that we are only beginning to see the potential held in the creativity and determination of Wellesley students.