Many of the Samford University seniors who enjoyed a reception at the president's home Thursday, May 1, had first visited the Shades Mountain residence overlooking campus for an ice cream social at the start of their freshman year.
"You are so much less socially awkward now," quipped president Andrew Westmoreland as he welcomed the crowd who will soon become members of the Samford Alumni Association. "You have changed in many ways during your time at Samford. In some ways, that seems like a long time, in other ways a very short time."
Lauren Lunceford, a 2009 graduate and president of Samford's Birmingham Young Alumni Association, encouraged the seniors keep in touch with their alma mater so they could know about events and ways to be involved.
The Class of 2014, who will graduate in programs on campus the weekend of May 17, won't have to wait long. The first event after they become official alumni, Lunceford noted, is a picnic at Railroad Park in Birmingham on May 29.
The students were joined at the reception by an elite group of faculty and staff members who had been invited for a special reason. Each had been named by one or more students who made gifts to the Senior Campaign in their honor. "It recognizes the impact you had in these students' lives," vice president for advancement Randall Pittman explained to the honorees.
History department chair Jonathan Bass was one guest who had been tapped by multiple seniors for the honor.
"I am surprised, but very flattered," said Bass, who said that, for him, teaching is much more than standing in front of a class.
"It's about mentoring and getting to know students on a personal level as an advisor and friend. I love teaching and talking about my discipline, but the lifelong relationships are what I value and treasure the most," said Bass, who said he maintains contact with students he taught his first year at Samford in 1997. "I heard from one of them this week."
The Senior Campaign, held for the second year, encourages members of the graduating class to get a jump-start on a tradition of giving back to the school as alumni. Seniors can designate their gift to the department or scholarship of their choice. Each gift/honoree nomination is anonymous. To date, more than 70 faculty and staff members have been thus honored, although they do not know by whom.
Chelsea Brown, a psychology major from LaGrange, Ga., is a member of the campaign committee.
"I have loved being involved and helping to take up the challenge to double the percentage of last year's givers," said Brown, who has served on Samford's student philanthropy awareness council.
While the Class of 2013 had a goal of counting 5 percent of its members as donors to the senior campaign, the Class of 2014 is hoping for 10 percent. With 8.6 percent of the 450 members of the undergraduate senior class donating thus far, the goal appears within sight.
Brown, whose minor is social entrepreneurship and non-profit management, notes that some of her favorite mentors are not in the classroom, but in areas such as student affairs. Her connection is so close that she plans to pursue a master's in higher education and student affairs at Baylor University after she receives her Samford degree.
Campaign steering committee member Drew Hall sees his involvement as a good way to begin his transition from active student to loyal alumnus.
"It's a good way to learn ways to stay involved with Samford," said Hall, a marketing and entrepreneurship major who has seen those learned skills play out in the campaign effort. "Fundraising involves personal selling and connecting people to a cause. Samford is brand that tons of people want, and one that they appreciate because they have been touched by the Samford community," said Hall, from Madison, Miss.
Rachel Wheeler, a psychology major from Memphis, Tenn., recalled the ice cream social hosted by president Westmoreland and his wife, Jeanna, her freshman year. She underscored Westmoreland's observation about how she and her classmates have changed.
"At that social, I did not know many people. Now, I look around and see many, many familiar faces. The time has flown by, and I have made many wonderful friends. I've loved everything about Samford, and especially my teachers," said Wheeler, who plans to donate to the senior campaign in honor of her two favorite professors.
"I was trying to think of something I could do to show my appreciation for them. This is a great idea. It's a great way to give back to Samford and to honor them."