Campus News

The method behind the madness of the senior gift

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campus_fall_07_181 Question: how do you want to be remembered? I don’t just mean after you’re gone from this earth, but how do you want to be remembered here, at your alma mater? What do you want your name associated with years or even decades after you walked down the aisle in your cap and gown? What do you want your Bethel legacy to be? For years, the graduating seniors of each year have collaborated, sometimes with previous classes, to bestow a senior gift upon Bethel's campus. These gifts have ranged from patios to clocks to benches to even a prayer garden. Some are flashy, some are practical, some are decided by popular demand and others are the decision of the executive board of student council. But one thing remains the same. Each gift carries the thoughts and memories of an entire class. Perhaps that sounds very poetic and sentimental, but when it comes down to it, the process behind each year's senior gift is anything but spontaneous. This year’s senior gift is already being narrowed down to a few options. According to Diana Diaz-Diurych, the upperclassmen student council president, conversations regarding the senior gift start after the first student council meeting of the year, which means that talks about the 2017 gift have been going on for a month and a half by now. The initial meetings have generally consisted of the student council meeting with various administration members such as Kelly Courington, the annual fund director, and Richard Munroe, vice president of institutional advancement, for ideas as well as advice on pricing and placement for the gift. “Those meetings are kind of the initial steps in making a list of ideas,” said Diaz-Diurych. “Just brainstorming with all those people and then narrowing those down to our final options.” Those options, as mentioned earlier, take many forms. “One of (the ideas) returning this year was either another sand volleyball court or maintenance (for) the one that we already have,” said Diaz-Diurych. “That one’s a tricky one just because of placement of it, ‘cause it’s kind of a larger thing and just with future buildings that may be built, there’s not a lot of space to put that kind of thing.” “Things that came to the table are various,” said Johan Godwaldt, advisor to the upperclassmen student council, “from garbage cans to compost systems to statues to different kind(s) of symbols that might call students to prayer in different places, meditation areas…(we’ve talked) about more crosses outside of buildings on campus, we talked about statuaries, various kinds, maybe a statue of someone important to the founding of Bethel, maybe a statuary of Christ…” There was even talk of a mural, but that turned out to be too expensive, and the council couldn’t decide exactly what the mural would depict. Godwaldt said that by the end of the first brainstorming session, there were 25 ideas on the table. According to both Godwaldt and Diaz-Diurych, the council almost has it narrowed down to two choices for the seniors to choose between. For this being the “senior gift,” it may appear that there’s a lot of official input into this decision. But both Munroe and Godwaldt assured me that this is completely a student decision. Munroe even went so far as to say that if the gift was not student-led, it won’t work at all. “It is strictly the students,” asserted Godwaldt, “I advise and guide so they don’t get off track.” Gift ideas are usually separated into two categories of maintenance and legacy. A few examples of maintenance gifts that Godwaldt gave were new furniture in the Great Room, new curtains in buildings and even the addition of more trash cans on campus. Diaz-Diurych commented on the difference between legacy and maintenance gifts, saying that the two gift choices are both legacy gifts. “A legacy gift being something that, in 50 years you can come back and show your kids and your grandkids, and that kind of thing,” she said, “rather than a maintenance (gift) like fixing something up.” Diaz-Diurych said that maintenance gifts aren’t generally immediately disqualified in the process, but this being Bethel’s 70th anniversary, President Gregg Chenoweth has expressed a desire to install a legacy gift. “So, this year’s a little bit different,” said Diaz-Diurych, “just because…we want it to be a more permanent gift.” Godwaldt said one of the hardest things for students to learn is “what is legacy?” “It might not benefit today’s students,” said Godwaldt, “but when you come back to campus 50 years from now, for your 50-year reunion with your grandchildren, what do you want left behind from your class? That’s a legacy.” Godwaldt said that talk for last year’s senior gift shifted to more of a prayer focus, with ideas such as a prayer walk or labyrinth coming up. When pricing for the prayer walk turned out to be too much, a prayer garden was suggested and approved. Godwaldt, who designed the garden spoke a little about the process and the symbolism behind the gift. The circular shape of the garden represents unity, while the stones near the entrance represent the open tomb, as well as an invitation to prayer. The flowers bloom blue and white in the fall for Bethel’s colors, and the trees surrounding it will eventually turn orange, mimicking the “Spirited Connections” campaign. Finally, an iron cross was chosen due to the fact that as it rusts, it’s transformed into something new, like Christ transforms His followers. So is this decision made solely by student council? Well, that depends on the year. There have been years the executive student council overrode the underclassmen council, who usually head up the project. Other years, seniors have been able to express their wishes at an open forum, which is actually how the idea for the prayer garden last year got started. Diaz-Diurych said that this year will probably involve a forum. “In the initial process, it’s just kind of us brainstorming ideas with people at the college who know what our budget is and where we can place it, things that can really work,” she said, “and then from there, once we’ve narrowed it down, we’re actually going to hold a forum…that’ll probably be on a Tuesday night most likely, and we will just have it open for an hour or two hours, something around there, and whoever can just come and ask questions and give ideas, and whatever they’re looking for, they can let us know.” Diaz-Diurych said that she plans to present the two choices and the forum in a chapel announcement soon. And last but certainly not least, we have the most enjoyable part: the cost. Senior gifts are generally given a budget of $10,000, but according to Godwaldt, this budget has had to be fudged in recent years. The gift of a fireplace two years ago cost about $45,000, and the original Helm, adjusted for inflation, cost over $100,000. Last year’s prayer garden fit right inside the budget. “Right now we’re in the middle of (the) pricing phase,” he said, “we might think, ‘oh, that’s just $10,000,’ but when we actually send it out for pricing it comes back way higher, so to make sure that before we go before the student body, the senior class, with two ideas to vote on and select and talk about, that we know we’re playing inside a budget that’s realistic.” If the senior class wants a higher budget, then that is feasible; however, they have to prove they can actually raise that money before the administration will allow that. Munroe said that raising the budget must be approached with caution, since if they embark on a project and they can’t raise the money for it, it simply won’t get done. “That becomes the thing,” said Godwaldt. “How much do seniors want to leave a legacy behind? How many want to have a mark on campus?” And where does this money come from? This year, the senior class is teaming up with the class of 1967 to pay for the gift. Along with this collaboration, graduating seniors walk across campus on graduation day with members of the class of '67, which Munroe said is very unique about Bethel. The easiest and most common way for students to donate is by donating all or part of their housing deposits, since, as Diaz-Diurych put it, “that’s something that is easy to forget about, but it makes a big difference.” Students can also make donations by getting in contact with student council members. The collaboration between classes generally averages out to about a 50-50 effort given by both parties, since while the current senior class may have more members to give, the older class has more ability to give. So that’s the tradition of the senior gift. Munroe and Godwaldt both said they believe this has been happening ever since Bethel has had a graduating class. While no one was able to tell me exactly what the choices for this year are, know that it’s coming, and we’ll just have to wait and see what this year’s class decides to leave as its own legacy on campus.
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