Inside the Time 100 Gala With Simu Liu, Zendaya and a Message From Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy

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What does it mean to be a Time 100 honoree?

For Jon Batiste, who recently dominated the Grammy Awards with five wins and a colorful performance of “Freedom,” he emphasized the importance of leaning into one’s power.

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“Lean into yourself because that’s your superpower,” Batiste told Variety on Wednesday night at the Time 100 Gala at Lincoln Center in New York City. “Genius is the one who is most like themselves. The leader is the one who is coming from a place of knowing in himself and can inspire other people.”

The ceremony, hosted by “Shang-Chi” superstar Simu Liu, marked TIME’s first in-person event since 2019. The evening will also be broadcast in a primetime special on ABC on June 12.

One of the highlights of the night was Liu living up to his Twitter proposition to share a milk bubble tea with billionaire Bill Gates.

“Now, Mr. Gates, have you ever had bubble tea before? I’m not trying to be rude, I just honestly don’t know what billionaires drink. I’m assuming some sort of liquid NFT or Web3 beverage,” Liu said, as Gates sipped from a big cup of tea. “A toast to you! Don’t forget to chew.”

The star-studded guest list included Amanda SeyfriedTaika WatitiAriana DeBose and Jeremy Strong. Zendaya stunned the carpet in a vintage Bob Mackie gown, while Andrew Garfield rocked a classic Gucci tuxedo.

Simu Liu and Taika Waititi. - Credit: Nina Westervelt for Variety
Simu Liu and Taika Waititi. - Credit: Nina Westervelt for Variety

Nina Westervelt for Variety

Former NBA star Dwayne Wade, who was a Time 100 honoree, praised his 15-year-old transgender daughter Zaya on the carpet for showing him “what courage looks like every day.”

“I think we just got to continue to grow as parents and understand that our kids’ life is not just about us,” Wade told Variety. “We didn’t have them to be a mini version of us. They’re going to become who they are in his world and it’s our job to find that out.”

Wade wrote the Time 100 essay “Abbott Elementary” creator and star Quinta Brunson. During the dinner, Brunson dedicated her toast to the teachers of America and advocated for their salaries to be increased.

“I play a teacher on TV, but every day I wonder if I’d be strong enough to be one in real life,” Brunson said. “You all deserve to be paid more!”

Quinta Brunson. - Credit: Nina Westervelt for Variety
Quinta Brunson. - Credit: Nina Westervelt for Variety

Nina Westervelt for Variety

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also addressed the crowd via video message to highlight Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ongoing invasion of his home country. He called on the leaders in the room to be “100% influential.”

“Everyone of us — everyone — is the leader of our time,” Zelenskyy said. “We can reliably defend freedom. We can stop blackmail from a person who has no place on our list at all. If we are up to it, then we must do it, because influence obliges us to do so.”

The night was wrapped with a powerful performance from 2022 Time 100 honoree Mary J. Blige. She asked the audience to stand for her 2001 mega-hit “Family Affair,” and in between songs, she took a moment to express how “we all learned to love each other real good during all this COVID stuff.”

To cap things off, she conveyed a timely message taken right from her song “Just Fine” that was met with a momentous applause.

“I guarantee you at the end of the day, everything — and I mean everything — is going to be just fine!”

The Time 100 special airs on June 12 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

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