2023 Gala Honorees

Community Quarterbacks

Michael J. Schmidtberger
Partner, Chair of the Executive Committee
Sidley Austin LLP

Michael Schmidtberger is a Partner and Chair of the Executive Committee Sidley Austin LLP. He previously served as a global co-leader of the Investment Funds group and managing partner of Sidley’s New York office. Michael’s principal areas of practice are securities and futures-related funds and corporate transactions, including related regulatory matters. He has been ranked by Chambers Global in Hedge Funds as a Band 1 Lawyer and as an Eminent Practitioner.  

Michael also received The John Jay award, which is presented to members of the Columbia College family for distinguished professional achievement. He currently serves as Co-Chair of the Board of Directors of United Way of New York City and is a Trustee of both the Citizen’s Budget Commission and Phillip’s Exeter Academy. He is also a representative of the Partnership for New York City, the nonprofit membership organization consisting of New York business leaders and a member of the Executive Committee of the Columbia College Board of Visitors.  

Michael is a graduate of Columbia College and Columbia Law School. 

Linda E. Johnson
President & Chief Executive Officer
Brooklyn Public Library

As president and CEO of Brooklyn Public Library (BPL), Linda E. Johnson leads one of the nation’s most historic and most innovative library systems. The 61-branch public library system is the fifth largest library system in the country and the ninth largest cultural institution in New York, operating with an annual budget of $150 million while serving 2.7 million residents. Linda has overseen BPL’s transformation from an analog to a modern library with state-of-the-art technology available for free to all patrons, working with elected officials, private foundations, and library stakeholders, to ensure ensures that underserved and underrepresented communities have access to knowledge on every platform.

Under Linda’s leadership, the Library’s presence and impact in the community have expanded beyond the confines of its 61 branches. BPL now hosts collections at nearly 200 off-site locations and provides services in 552 outreach sites, including schools, homeless shelters, senior centers and correctional facilities. The Library’s Outreach Services Department has developed new and nationally recognized resources for immigrants, seniors, veterans, the incarcerated, the homebound and other vulnerable or marginalized patrons. This past year, BPL launched Books Unbanned, an initiative designed to give youth who have been impacted by the alarming wave of book bans throughout the country, free access to BPL’s digital collection and learning databases. Combating censorship is at the core of the Library’s work and is one of the most important issues Linda has grappled with during her tenure.

Prior to joining BPL in 2011, Linda served as president and CEO of the National Constitution Center, CEO of the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation, and president of JCI Data. Currently, Linda sits on the boards of Hamilton College, Sing for Hope, and the Curtis Institute of Music. She is also an advisory director on the board of the Metropolitan Opera.


Brad A. Rothbaum
BMO Capital Markets Corp.

Brad Rothbaum is Managing Director & Head, U.S. Global Markets, and Chief Operating Officer of BMO Capital Markets Corp. and Head of the U.S. Branches which include New York, Chicago, and an Agency Office in Houston. Brad is a member of the US Management Committee and Chairs the Boards of BMO Capital Markets Corp. and Clearpool Execution Services. Prior to joining BMO, he was the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Paloma Securities LLC, a part of the multi strategy Paloma Partners hedge fund complex. Brad serves on the Board of Directors of the United Way of New York City and is a Trustee for both the Citizens Budget Commission in New York City and the Institute of International Bankers. Brad co-founded a scholarship for graduating seniors at Francis Lewis High School in Queens, NY, his alma mater, which recognizes students who have successfully overcome obstacles in their non-academic lives. Brad holds an MPA in Public Finance and a BA in Political Science/History from the University at Albany Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy.

Hometown Heros

Solomon Thomas
Defensive Lineman
NY Jets

Solomon Thomas, a seven-year NFL veteran defensive lineman, is the New York Jets 2023 Hometown Hero. Selected by San Francisco in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, Thomas played four seasons with SF and one season with LV before signing with the Jets as an unrestricted free agent in 2022, and re-signing with the team this offseason. Thomas attended Stanford University where he appeared in 27 games over three seasons. As a junior, he was named a third-team All-American by the Associated Press and earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors and the Morris Trophy award.

Off the field, Thomas has a heart for helping people find hope when they are struggling with feeling emotionally lost. After the passing of his older sister, Ella, in January 2018, he began dedicating his life to sharing her story and working with nonprofit organizations to raise awareness and secure funds for mental health and suicide prevention work. A long with his family, Thomas founded The Defensive Line Foundation to honor Ella and bring a message of hope and help to other at-risk young people with their stated mission, “To end the epidemic of youth suicide, especially for people of color, by transforming the way we communicate and connect about mental health.” Thomas has been an impactful keynote speaker and panel member at events for American Foundation Suicide Prevention Gala, Mental Health America, San Francisco Suicide Prevention, NFLPA Super Bowl Players Summit, Kick the Stigma, Bring Change 2 Mind, and USC Annenberg Summit. He has also been the recipient of the 2019 AFSP Lifesaver Award with his parents Martha and Chris.

Most recently, Thomas participated in the announcement of the new 988 Suicide Prevention Hotline in a national campaign, served on a panel for Paramount+ Global, and continues to work with the NFL to improve mental health programming in the league. Thomas was the Jets nominee for Walter Payton Man of the Year last season.

Graham Gano
Place Kicker
NY Giants

Hometown Hero Graham Gano is a New York Giants kicker who started his NFL career as an undrafted free agent with the Baltimore Ravens in 2009.

Gano has embraced New York City as his own and has been winning the hearts of New Yorkers with his actions off the field just as much as he does on the field. Since joining the Giants in 2020, Gano and his family have dedicated themselves to supporting the New York City Police Foundation’s (NYCPF) Far Rockaway Giants.  This NYPD-led program provides tutoring, mentoring and the opportunity to play flag football while being coached by police officers for boys in Far Rockaway, Queens. Gano has contributed thousands of dollars to support the program and dedicated countless hours of time with each of the boys and police officers. Gano was part of the Giants player group that inspired the program to expand into Harlem and hopes to have the program exist in all five boroughs. During the 2022 season, he teamed up with MetLife to provide awareness and funds for the program and helped raised over $80,000 for the NYCPF. In Week 13 of the NFL season, Gano represented the NYCPF and Far Rockaway Giants for My Cause, My Cleats, the league-wide initiative that allows players to share causes that are important to them.

As a team captain and leader in the locker room, Gano used his jersey number swap with Kayvon Thibodeaux, the Giants 2022 draft pick, to provide $50,000 of support to Puppies Behind Bars. This non-profit organization trains incarcerated individuals to raise service dogs for wounded war veterans and first responders, facility dogs for police. The contribution funded the training of five service dogs, which is a personal number to Graham and his wife Brittany as they have five children.