Engaging in the Future
“When I started this, I really had to scratch my head and say, ‘do I really want to use the word celebration?’” College of Marin (COM)’s Director of Advancement, Keith Rosenthal said while beginning the Fall Scholarship Award Celebration to honor the scholarship award recipients and donors. “And then it occurred to me that we should hit the pause button on the world out there and celebrate the kindness of our donors and the achievement of our students.”
The Scholarship Award Celebration was originally scheduled to be in person, but because of the pandemic, it was held for the first time virtually on Thursday, September 24, 2020. Over 60 individuals from the COM community were in attendance.
“My goal today,” Rosenthal continued, “is to infuse the spirit of donors into this process and inspire the students and the rest of us about how scholarships are making a difference in the lives of our students. We need to celebrate the power of scholarships.”
While traditional scholarships honor the academic success of students, for many of COM students these scholarships are a critical lifeline to fulfilling their educational goals and dreams. Heightened by the pandemic, the demographics of our students mirror some of the most vulnerable members of our community. In a recent survey, 28% of the respondents reported lack of regular food security, 52% reported job loss or reduction in work hours, and 15% reported lack of access to basic medical care or mental health support.
Equity and inclusion for all students has long been a focus of COM’s President, Dr. David Wain Coon, under his almost decade of service to our community. For this reason, equity is a guiding principal in COM’s current six-year strategic plan. The College was recently awarded the Dr. John W. Rice Equity, Diversity, and Student Success Award. This award is bestowed yearly on only two of the 116 community colleges in California, and it is a tremendous recognition for COM equity initiatives. The award is given to the community college with the highest rates of completion and transfer for students of color, and for increasing diversity of staff and faculty.
Dr. Coon acknowledged and thanked COM’s donors during the Celebration, saying, “I can assure you there are no greater equalizer and path towards social justice and education. So, I really want to thank you for investing in the future of our students.”
He told donors that the return on their investment is the future success of the students. He spoke to students, telling them that the donors who were able to be at the Award Celebration were there because they want to connect with the students they were investing in and to hear about their successes.
“One day, whether it be a year, five years, ten years, twenty years from now, we want to encourage you to give back,” Dr. Coon said to the students. “Because that’s what keeps that whole circle of giving going.”
With over 150 scholarships, COM has a long tradition of dedicated donors making a difference in the lives of COM students. Most scholarship donors are individuals who have been professionally or personally impacted by COM’s community, and many donors are alumni, former faculty, staff, or friends of COM.
The Anonymous Fund at Marin Community Foundation (MCF) has been a backbone of the scholarship program. This fund directly benefits students who are in the Emeritus Students College of Marin (ESCOM) which provides lifelong learners the opportunity be actively engaged and build a community. Over 31% of Marin’s population over the age of 65 live alone. With the pandemic, COM helps break their isolation and keeps them mentally and physically fit. The Fund provides scholarships to undergraduates and emeritus students along with discounted classes – ensuring financial limitations are not a barrier to educational opportunities.
Typically, donors have very little direct contact with the students who receive their scholarships, but this Awards Celebration is one of the few ways recipients get to thank donors personally. And donors have the chance to see the impactful ways their investment has made for recipients to succeed, flourish, and achieve their dreams.
During the Celebration, student representatives were given the opportunity to share their personal testimony to the power of scholarship. Student recipient, Dawud S. Anderson-Zafir gave a heartfelt speech directly to them. “I want to say thank you even knowing that thank you is not enough,” Anderson-Zafir stated. “And I look forward to continuing to build my community and my academic journey so that when I reached the point where I can give back in a significant way, like the way people have given to me, that I will have a community to turn to and deliver that support to light another person's path.” You can watch Dawud’s testimony on COM’s Scholarship webpage.
Michele Samuels received a drama scholarship and had the opportunity to thank donor and COM alumnus, Louis Bershad. She expressed how important it was to be a part of COM’s Drama department through some difficult life transitions, and how the ability to receive these scholarships enabled her to continue attending, persevere, and give back to others. “Louis, you have become both an advocate and mentor to me.” Samuels expressed. “I am forever grateful to you and to the other people who have given so I could receive scholarships for the opportunities you’ve created for me.”
The last person to speak was Bershad. He’s a COM graduate from the Class of 1960 who is today a successful talent agent in L.A. He created three scholarships for students in nursing, business, and drama in honor of two professors at COM who had a significant impact on him. The other honors a long-term personal friend. Bershad usually drives from LA to impart his passion for COM and give his words of advice for current students.
Most students agree that the teachers at COM greatly enhance their educational experience. For Bershad, he shared a very personal story of his days at COM and how his drama professor, Fredrick Thon, gave him the confidence to be an actor and to realize what he wanted as his profession – to combine business and theatre which would combine his passion with a career. His professor’s encouragement led Bershad to receiving a full scholarship to Yale University School of Drama where he was unable to attend due to a family tragedy. He recalled the support of both Professor Thon and his business professor, Weaver Meadows, both of whom encouraged him to continue believing in himself and that he would achieve success. You can also see his testimony on the COM’s Scholarship webpage. Don’t forget to bring your tissues.
Bershad ended by saying, “today, when I see 30% of our students living in cars, depending on food subsidies, I say to them, everyone can understand you; everyone knows what it's like. But I've been there, and I stand with you. I ask all of you, please do not give up. Do not quit. Don't let the forces of evil or poverty or anything stand in your way. Fight, fight, fight! And one day, you will look back to now and you'll be able to say this was your finest hour. ‘I made it.’”
Learn how you can become a College of Marin donor today to help our future succeed at marin.edu/advancement.