NBC anchor Brian Williams speaks at the Stand Up for...

NBC anchor Brian Williams speaks at the Stand Up for Heroes event at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan on Nov. 5, 2011. Credit: Getty Images / Monica Schipper

NBC News anchor Brian Williams has made his first public appearance since going on suspension following revelations of untrue and exaggerated claims about his experiences reporting on the Iraq War last decade.

Williams, 55, attended a fundraising gala Saturday at Shore Casino in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey, to help benefit his alma mater, the Catholic preparatory school Mater Dei Prep, in Middletown, where he spent part of his childhood.

The 1977 alumnus, who attended with his wife, Jane Stoddard, told The Two River Times of Red Bank, New Jersey, "This is Mater Dei. It's been a very, very important part of my life. I had four great years here. I did not know it then, but it was the last degree I'd ever earn." He told the Asbury Park Press, "It's a wonderful school, and it should be open for a long time, for everybody."

The Save the Seraphs Gala sold out, the Asbury Park Press reported, adding that 464 guests paid $125 each for tickets. Williams himself donated $50,000, the newspaper said, adding that by evening's end, the campaign had raised all but $38,000 of its $1 million goal.

"He had a lot of friends he went to school with," fundraiser co-chair Maria Buzzanco told The Two River Times. "He was happy to come back to the Shore Casino because he went to proms there. He was greeted with warm hugs. Everyone was telling him how much they support him as well, and thanked him for coming."

On Feb. 4, a day after the school's impending closing in June was announced, Williams told the Asbury Park Press he was "heartbroken" over the news. "It was the heart of my existence during my four happy years there, and it remains a presence in my life. I have friends who work there, and classmates who have since sent their own children to Mater Dei."

NBC suspended Williams without pay on Feb. 10 after the "Nightly News" anchor acknowledged embellishing an account of a helicopter ride while embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq in 2003. Lester Holt has replaced Williams during his suspension.

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