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‘Without this scholarship, my life would be in a totally different place’

Through handwritten notes and video messages, students say ‘thanks’ to donors.

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VCU students gathered on the Compass on Monday to sign posters, write letters and record video messages thanking donors for their support. (Photo courtesy of Development and Alumni Relations Communications)

Giovanni Knight knows firsthand the importance of philanthropy. She has two younger siblings who have autism and their care is expensive. When Knight was looking to attend college, the financial burden on her family appeared too much to handle.

“When it came to funding and financing school, it wasn’t in the cards,” she said.

Undeterred, Knight applied for scholarships to offset the cost. She also started working part time after enrolling at Virginia Commonwealth University. Along the way, she started hearing stories about donors.

“I started hearing about all these people contributing to scholarships,” Knight said. “And I was like, ‘That's pretty amazing.’ You don't know me, you have nothing to do with me, but you decided to contribute to my education. I just really appreciate that.”

Students stop at the VCU Alumni table to write cards to donors. (Photo courtesy of Development and Alumni Relations Communications)
Students stop at the VCU Alumni table to write cards to donors. (Photo courtesy of Development and Alumni Relations Communications)

Knight, now a junior in the VCU School of Business, was demonstrating that appreciation and thinking about her path to and through college Monday at Thank a Donor Day, an event organized by the Office of Development and Alumni Relations recognizing university donors. Knight and about 400 members of the VCU community signed posters, wrote letters and recorded video messages thanking donors for their support. 

“Being able to say ‘thank you’ is just really big,” Knight said. “Without donors, [college] wouldn't be a possibility for me. My scholarships made my experience at VCU possible.”

Monday’s event, held on the Compass, was the first of two donor appreciation events scheduled for this fall. The second will be held Oct. 8 on the MCV Campus. 

“It's an opportunity for VCU students to thank donors for different opportunities they are making possible, whether it be student scholarships, professorships or buildings on campus,” said Connor Smith, assistant director for outreach and engagement in the alumni office who works with VCU’s student alumni organization.

“I think it's always important to say ‘thank you’ — I don't think we say it enough.”

VCU Thank a Donor Day 2018

VCU is currently in the public phase of a $750 million philanthropic campaign to support critical university initiatives and fuel growth in three primary areas: people, innovations and environments. The university has raised more than $644 million during the campaign. Nearly 30,000 gifts were made to VCU during the past fiscal year, which ended June 30. 

“We want to let our donors know that we are grateful for their support and that it's doing awesome things here at VCU,” said Jenn Papenfuse, director of stewardship programs in the Office of Development and Alumni Relations. “And we know donors love hearing from our students.” 

Ajay Potluri was among the crowd of people signing posters and writing notes Monday. A sophomore in the College of Humanities and Sciences, Potluri is a recipient of a VCU Presidential Scholarship and was volunteering at the event.

“I think it's important to show our appreciation for donors,” he said. “A lot of students here have scholarships and that money has to come from somewhere. It's important that we recognize the donors for the work they have done.”

Potluri said his scholarship, which covers tuition, fees, room and board up to $14,000 a year, has provided peace of mind as he continues his studies.

“I plan on going to medical school and it's a long road filled with expensive tuition,” he said. “The fact I'm able to attend my undergrad with little to no cost on my behalf is something I'm very grateful for. That's money I can be saving for medical school, for the future. Without this scholarship, my life would be in a totally different place.”

Nearly 30,000 gifts were made to VCU during the past fiscal year, which ended June 30. (Photo courtesy of Development and Alumni Relations Communications)
Nearly 30,000 gifts were made to VCU during the past fiscal year, which ended June 30. (Photo courtesy of Development and Alumni Relations Communications)

Knight agreed. She has received several scholarships during her time at VCU, including a merit scholarship and the Becht Family Scholarship, created by Joseph E. Becht Jr., a business school alumnus.

Knight planned to write Becht a card on Monday. Someday, she said, she hopes to be on the receiving end of a similar letter from a VCU student.

“I want to be the donor that is contributing to someone else's education because I remember how much it meant to me,” she said. “That's going to be me in a few years.”