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Development Update

By Mary Hicks

Mary HicksWhen the mail arrived a few months ago, a lovely blue envelope caught my eye. Then I saw the return address, with the last name of an alumnus who had recently died (I'll call him "Charles"). The letter's author was Charles' brother ("Andrew"). A conversation with him later in the day got me reflecting on the joy and good that can grow out of deep loss and grief.

Andrew told me that Charles had expressed a wish that his estate gift benefit "J-school" students. Charles sought no recognition. It never occurred to him that a gift could not only help students realize their dreams but also carry his name in perpetuity, that it could become not only an enduring piece of University history, but also a reminder that he had been here, had cared, and had made a difference in students' lives .

As we talked, Andrew realized that a fellowship endowment was precisely the kind of legacy Charles had wanted to leave; and naming the fellowship for Charles would pay fitting tribute to the kind of man he had been. And so next fall, a new graduate student will be coming to Murphy Hall as a named scholar. That student will experience first hand the impact of giving; and Andrew will experience the joy of seeing the living, breathing result of Charles' gift. He will know that his brother's legacy will live on, touching the lives of all future recipients of the fellowships and scholarships that bears his name.

Those beneficiaries won't be able to thank Charles in person. But they might one day tell their own children, "I owe my success to Charles." And they might follow Charles' example by establishing fellowships and scholarships in their own or their loved ones' names for future generations of students.

I tell this story because it's the kind of heart-warmer that gets people like me out of bed on these snow-filled winter mornings. Stories like this buoy our spirits day in and day out throughout Murphy Hall. Their message is not about accountabilities or bottom lines. It's about people. It's about giving, giving back, and paying it forward. Broadly speaking, it's about family. It's about the wonderful relationships we have built over the years--not only with our alumni and donors and their families, but also between those alumni, donors, mentors, and faculty and each new generation of students.

It's about what drives us, thrills us, and, in these difficult economic times, keeps our eyes on the prize--donors whose wishes are fulfilled, students whose educational dreams are realized, and a faculty whose international stature is assured, all adding up to an even better and more vibrant SJMC and a stronger University of Minnesota.

But I also share this story because we need your help. Our programs are flourishing, we've recruited remarkable faculty and students, and we've opened two new graduate programs in the last 24 months, in health journalism and strategic communication. All of our programs are highly competitive in the quality of applicants. As people who care about the SJMC you should know that we have the wonderful opportunity through the President's Scholarship Initiative and the 21st Century Fund to double the impact of your giving. If you create a new endowed scholarship or fellowship at the $25,000 level we will be able to match the payout of that endowment. It's a marvelous opportunity and you can take up to three years to pay off your pledge.

There is a bit of a post-script to the story of Charles and Andrew.

One day not so long ago, Andrew came to visit campus. We toured Murphy Hall, talked about the faculty members that Charles frequently spoke of, the changes in the building and the programs, the past and, of course, the future. But it was when Andrew spoke of his brother's legacy that tears came to both of our eyes. We both wished that Charles could be there to meet the future recipients of his fellowship and learn first hand of their career aspirations as journalists and communicators.

If you are wondering how you can make a difference in the lives of our students and our faculty, I'd love to talk to you. You may reach me at 612-625-5031 or at hicks002@umn.edu.