Thursday, October 06, 2011

University Fundraiser Encourages Pacific Students Involvement

Denise Banh

If you had asked me when I first started college what I wanted to do with my life, I had two answers: a CEO for a high powered company or a housewife. Yes, yes, I know those things are not even remotely related, but I guess when you first start out you really have no idea what you actually want to do. Now, it’s more than four years later and I find myself as the Annual Giving & Alumni Relations Coordinator at this fine institution. Am I disappointed I’m not headed in the direction of either of my original choices? Not even a little bit.

In my freshman year of college I applied to work at the Phonathon at my now alma mater. Sexy headsets, tons of snacks, and the highest paying job on campus? I was down. But, sometime in the following four years, something happened. Working for the Phonathon wasn’t about my hourly wage and on-job perks anymore. I was doing something greater than myself. I was making a difference. Now, I know that sounds exceptionally cheesy but it’s true. I fell in love with philanthropy.

What is philanthropy? Ask me that four years ago and I could have presented you some vague definition probably not worthy of print. That’s something I’ve slowly learned through the years. Philanthropy comes in many forms and manifests differently for each person. Etymologically it means the love of humanity. But, let me tell you what it means to me. Philanthropy is the desire to better mankind, to better the life of at least one person. And I’m not talking about world changing, barrier crushing, world peace kind of betterment but the philanthropy that reaches people on an everyday level. Although, if you could find a way to bring world peace to fruition, that would be great too. It can be a monetary contribution to a cause you believe in, time spent supporting the causes close to your heart, donations of supplies and equipment for those who are without. The possibilities are endless. You just have to find the right fit.

Now, I’m not saying that being a CEO or a housewife would not allow me to lead a philanthropic life, but I realized that my passions are now elsewhere. At Pacific, 93 percent of students receive financial aid. A part of those funds come from generous gifts from alumni, parents and friends of this University. I love that I can say that my job (along with my amazing team) is to work every day to make that happen. Education is the cause closest to my heart and that is where I found my fit.

An element of philanthropy I would like to highlight is the importance of being involved. My family is Chinese but both my parents were born in Vietnam. During the war, they left Vietnam and became citizens of the United States. More than 20 years later, my dad recently decided to move back to Vietnam and I couldn’t really understand why. He said, “It’s lonely in the US. People drive in their own cars, to their own offices, and return to their own homes. It’s lonely.” A couple years ago I had the amazing opportunity to study for a semester in Vietnam and I understood what he meant. Apart from the fact that the density of people in Vietnam far outnumbers that of Portland, there was a greater sense of involvement among the people. You knew everything about your neighbors, you leant a hand when they were in need, you almost did not have the choice to be lonely. There was a greater sense of community among the people and I found that to be an amazing thing.

What I love about Pacific is that there is already a great sense of community among the students, faculty, staff, and other community members. But, we can always be more involved. Looking back, I definitely wish I was more involved at my college. Talking with other students in my graduating class, I realized I missed out on so many opportunities to not only make a difference at the school though governance but I also missed the opportunity to get to know the other people in the community. 

The world is filled with almost 7 billion people. It would be impossible to know everyone, but there’s absolutely no harm in trying. I am a fairly well traveled individual and the number of amazing people I’ve met around the world surprises me every time I think about it. The number of breathtaking experiences those people have brought me means the world to me. Sometimes I forget that there are just as many amazing people in my immediate community and those people also have amazing experiences to offer.

So, take it from me. Be more involved on campus, join a club, meet new people, gain new experiences, take everything this world has to offer but never forget to give back.

Banh is the Alumni Relations and Annual Giving Coordinator at Pacific University. She oversees the Students Today, Alumni Tomorrow student group and Phonathon. She can be contacted at or 503-352-2969.

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