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SFF Auction: Bidding Wars and Ninja Skills Raise Thousands for Public Interest

By Jenny Whalen
March 24, 2014

And so it was that 2014 became the year that gas averaged $3.55 a gallon, a loaf of bread cost $2.38, and the chance to see Miley Cyrus with Deans West and Zearfoss sold for a cool $3,500 at the 36th annual Student Funded Fellowships (SFF) Auction​.

The 12th of 24 items to hit the block during the live auction portion of the March 20 event, "Wrecking Ball," as this prize was designated, incited a bidding war that ultimately made it the most expensive item of the night. ​(View an image gallery.)

While Miley alone may not have garnered such extravagant bids, the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend the concert in the company of Michigan Law Deans Mark West, Sarah Zearfoss, '92, and five friends was just too good to pass up for winner and SFF Co-Chair Michael Schmale.

"When they started playing 'Wrecking Ball' during the bidding, I knew there was no way I could give it up, even though we paid a little more than we'd intended," said the 3L, who also won Prof. Mathias Reimann​'s ever-popular tandem skydive.

"I'm so excited to have these unique and memorable experiences ahead of me," added Schmale. "They're as close to 'priceless' as just about anything I can imagine. It's going to be a busy couple of months!"

From the $1,250 bid to design a signature Zingerman's sandwich to the $2,200 that won a personal tour of the U.S. Supreme Court, guests held to the "bid high and bid often" advice of emcees Alyson Robbins and 3L Betsy Fisher, raising $38,701 in the event's silent and live auctions. Added to $12,350 in matching funds from The Wein Hirshon Charitable Foundation, the event raised just over $51,000 total, which, holding with SFF's mission, will be used to provide grants to 1L students who take unpaid or low-paying public interest summer internships.

"This event made me so proud to be a Michigan Law student and to be a member of the SFF Board," said 2L Co-Chair Kate Aufses. "The night went by too quickly but, otherwise, I wouldn't have changed a thing!"

Indeed, the image​ of ninja Prof. Len Niehoff, '84, using his bare hand to break four concrete slabs in an effort to up the ante on his $1,200 "Warrior Bootcamp" package will live on in Law School legend for generations to come and few will forget the blackmail-worthy video starring Dean Z that got the auction rolling. (Sorry folks, you'll have to go to the rumor mill for this one. The original film has mysteriously disappeared.)

The lone serious moment of the night came when SFF awarded the annual A.W. Brian Simpson Memorial Award to Robert E. Hirshon, '73, the Frank G. Millard Professor from Practice and CEO of The Wein Hirshon Charitable Foundation, but a round of applause and a few wolf whistles quickly returned the room to its raucous mood.

Other highlights included the crowd's spontaneous rendition of "The Victors" when Michigan defeated Wofford College in the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament and Dean Z's visible disbelief that students would bid a whopping $650 for her autograph. Full disclosure, the autograph promises to accompany a message that may also indicate that the winner's admission to Michigan Law was owed more to the influence of Jim Beam than the applicant's personal merits..

All in all, it was a night that exceeded the expectations of organizers and, if the amount of laughter and applause is any indication, that of participants as well.

"Planning the auction you always worry that, no matter how much you organize everything, something will go wrong. But that never happened last night," Schmale said. "People had a ton of fun and we raised a lot of money. What more could we ask for?"

Now that we know how far Michigan Law professors are willing to go to support their students? The possibilities are endless.

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