Staying connected is both a metaphorical and a literal commitment for him: his youngest daughter, Bridget, also attended U.W. “She’s a writer,” says her dad, “no doubt.”
Staying connected with your university and, with the English Department in particular, is important for two reasons. First, an informed and connected alumni body is key to the long term maintenance of any university’s academic stature as well as its political and financial strength. Secondly, and somewhat selfishly, it can be a richly rewarding experience. I’ll tell you my story, but first, let’s take a look at where the U.W., a public institution, finds itself in the early part of the 21st century.
The educational landscape is constantly shifting and public institutions have faced particular challenges as a result of reduced governmental aid. Today 18% of university support comes from gifts while only 15% comes from the state. As recently as the 1980’s 40% of the budget came from the state. Donations are critical to making up the difference. For example, each of the fifty-one English majors recognized at this past May’s Banquet and Awards Ceremony received fellowships and scholarships funded entirely by the department. Donors also help us to recruit and retain faculty members, and, in general, enable us to maintain a first rate department. So, consider making a modest gift to the department even if you are young and recently graduated.
For many years my only connection with the University was the annual call from the Foundation. This was my means with speaking with students and getting my yearly U.W. update. Then about seven years ago I received a call from Cathy Webb of the Foundation. She thanked me for my gifts over many years which I insisted were modest and certainly not worthy of mention. She said that it was the consistency of the gifts that caught her eye. A meeting soon followed which led to an invitation to join the English Department Board of Visitors. I will never forget my first trip back to Helen C. White in over thirty years. There on the wall in the foyer was Helen C. White’s picture. Everything was exactly the same. I couldn’t resist stopping in the library. It was the oddest and yet most satisfying feeling to be back in what had been my favorite place on campus so many years ago.
So, yes, it’s a wonderful thing to reconnect. But, what I suggest is that you stay connected from the beginning. Don’t wait thirty years like I did. Stay in touch with faculty and friends. Make that donation to the English Department. Your heart will swell with goodwill.