During this uncertain time, our 80 newest graduates are entering a world in which many things are not as they would have expected. Yet rather than complain or bemoan their fate, many of our graduates and our continuing students—alongside our neighbors and colleagues—have stepped up.
Some have started youth movements to raise philanthropic support, or delivered sustenance to others, or worked in heroic ways to nurture those affected by the current crisis. And beyond helping today, they are working to seed a tomorrow in which generosity can flourish and shape more of the world around us.
The ways in which we are seeing philanthropy respond to the coronavirus and its economic impact also foreshadow the ways in which our graduates and students will live out the philanthropy they already practice and have studied, giving of their time, talent, treasure, and testimony to help others.
One will be a doctor, several others are or soon will be fundraisers for hospitals, secondary and higher education institutions, libraries, and hunger relief organizations, yet others will serve as consultants who assist nonprofits in multiple ways, or program officers who invest in talented and dedicated leaders, and some will be youth development specialists, advocates for children, families, and animals, leaders of arts organizations, and pursuers of further education to advance knowledge and benefit their communities.
They are part of that next generation we will look to in order to make sense of what emerges from the current conditions and strive to build a better world.
Marilynne Robinson, one of the greatest writers in the English language that we are privileged to share the planet with just wrote a forceful essay, asking us What Kind of Country Do We Want? In it, she questions much of what we take for granted in perceiving the social world we share. She argues that we have drifted far from the civic ideals that forged the American experiment, and that we now have an opportunity to clear up the muddle. She writes:
Emergencies remind us that people admire selflessness and enjoy demands on their generosity, and that the community as a whole is revivified by such demands. Great cost and greater benefit, as these things are traditionally understood. If in present circumstances we are driven back on our primitive impulses, then we should be watching our collective behavior carefully, because it will be instructive with regard to identifying an essential human nature. In more senses than one we are living through an unprecedented experiment, an opportunity it would be a world-historical shame to waste.
Our new graduates are poised to join the ranks of alumni of our school who have been demonstrating the “revivifying demands of generosity.” Others who have received the same education and credentials are on the front lines of the COVID response. From building a youth movement in Mexico to address the crisis, to raising funds at medical systems to support caregivers, to responding to the needs of congregations, to advocating for those disproportionately affected by the virus ... those who preceded our newest graduates are helping, healing, and rebuilding.
They are already engaged with this challenge and making us proud. It is a monumental challenge, and our alumni—both long-standing and our most recent—are responding with great positive energy.
As Robinson suggests, there is a profound opportunity in our current challenge, and it is reassuring that the most recent crop of successful graduates of the world’s first school of philanthropy are not alone. They are each an important part of a community of discovery, to which they will belong for the rest of their journey through life. They are and forever will remain part of our learning family, which shares a curiosity for philanthropy. Their experiences have pushed our community forward through their personal success—a community that stands strong together and extends its hands to others.
The persistence and commitment of our community is all the more impressive since most learned understandings of society and human behavior do not much dwell on the power of generosity. Read the news and you learn of the great changes portended to arrive in the wake of the pandemic. They most often point to affairs of state, grand commercial trends, and technology triumphant. But the experiences we have of navigating the crisis mostly point to meaningful interactions we have in community, where generosity serves as the animating spirit.
I am, of course biased, but I see further vindication of our predecessors’ commitment to advancing the ideas of a school that would study the generative power of generosity. Will we succeed in extending the communal feeling to others beyond the course of the crisis? How long will we “be in this together?” Aren’t these key questions?
As part of our family, we invite recent graduates and alumni from all years to renew their curiosity and ties to the people and traditions that supported their education. Their connections to the communities that they formed here stand the test of time. While graduates control their own destinies, collaboration within our community and the nonprofit sector is key to making a difference.
We encourage them, and you, to always continue learning; education has a way of uncovering the wonder in people and places, while at the same time adding to each and every individual’s abundance of enlightenment and usefulness.
We celebrate our graduates, our alumni, and our students for their achievements, their hard work, and their dedication to making the world a better place. And we welcome all those who are curious about the role of philanthropy in the world they are making. Join us. We are all in this together.
Eugene R. Tempel Dean