Who benefits most from scholarships?Several years ago, Marla and I faced a decision. We felt that it was time to give something back, in return for the educations we, our daughters, and other family members have been fortunate to receive. More than any other members of the Okrant family, I was a recipient of substantial scholarship and assistantship money along the way. . . funds that would not have been available without the generosity of others whose names I never knew. As we considered where and how to best spend our limited dollars, the answer was obvious. No educational institution has had a greater bearing on our welfare than Plymouth State University. It was Plymouth State that hired me as a comparatively unproven young faculty member. It was Plymouth State that allowed me the opportunity to develop a travel and tourism program, when there wasn’t another of its kind in New Hampshire. Plymouth State provided me with freedom to grow as an academic, and has even encouraged my development as a fiction writer. While faculty salaries are never apportioned to make people wealthy, our family has lived comfortably during the last thirty-five years. With all of this in mind, we established The Okrant Family Annual Scholarship in Tourism Studies. The purpose of the scholarship is to further the higher education and professional development of a deserving Plymouth State University student, one who will make a significant contribution as a professional in the field of tourism and hospitality. To date, we have given four of these awards, each to a wonderful young woman or man.
Two nights ago, the university conducted its annual scholarship recognition dinner. The evening is a celebration of givers and recipients alike. Principal donors are recognized and support donors are thanked. However, the evening belongs to the recipients. Marla and I always take a level of pride in our awardee similar to what we felt as our own daughters succeeded along the way. This year’s recipient, a young man from Sharon MA, has a wonderful story. When he first arrived in my office as a sophomore, James said little and never made eye contact. Two years later, he has exhibited academic excellence, interned at an area resort hotel, and completed one excellent piece of applied research for the Livermore Falls area, and another for one of New Hampshire’s iconic family theme parks. He has spent a summer abroad working in Ireland, and now is ready to take his place as a leader in the tourism and hospitality industry.
Returning to the original question: who benefits most from our scholarship? Some could argue that it is students like young James, whose financial burdens are reduced. Others may say it is the donors, who have the pleasure of extending the Okrant family, watching its members grow and contribute measurably to society. I contend that both benefit equally. We certainly feel privileged to take part in such an undertaking.