November 04, 2010 | Jessica Folkema

Big night: the annual scholarship dinner
Every year, donors and students pack out DeVos Place for the annual Named Scholarship Dinner.

Sophomore Sara Conrad plans to be a pediatric oncologist and hematologist. She is a biochemistry major. She is the president of a national student organization and an advocate for disability education.  

Conrad is also a cancer survivor and is legally blind.

“I’ve always been interested in medicine, but I remember asking God, ‘How can I be a doctor if I’m blind? That would be too hard,’” Conrad laughed. “But for whatever reason, he kept putting it on my heart.”

Among her many other scholarships and awards, Conrad is the recipient of the Mephibosheth Scholarship, a named scholarship established to provide assistance to a Calvin student with physical disabilities.

Students with donors

“Something like this almost means more coming from a stranger,” said Conrad. “Here’s someone who says ‘I care about you even though I don’t know you.’ That means everything to a student … Scholarships can help alleviate some of the fear created by money but they also tell you that someone out there believes in you.”

Conrad is one of three students selected to speak at this year’s Named Scholarship Dinner. She is also one of more than thousand named scholarship award recipients.

The Named Scholarship Dinner is the biggest event Calvin’s advancement division puts on in a calendar year. According to Lois Konyndyk, director of foundation relationships for advancement: “It’s also one of the most joyous.”

The dinner is designed to honor donors, give students a chance to express gratitude and allow both groups to build relationships. Student recipients are seated at the same tables as the donors who sponsored their scholarships, sparking conversation and friendships.

“Our donors know that God has blessed them,” said Konyndyk. “They want to share those resources with the next generation in the form of a Calvin education. This event gives the two groups a chance to meet face-to-face.”

Named scholarships are created for a variety of reasons and honor a variety of things. Earth keepers, Spanish speakers, female business majors, Chinese international students, fishermen, Alaskan natives and “average Joes” are just some of the students who may qualify for a named scholarship.

More than money

“These scholarships are often unique,” said Konyndyk, “they are created to honor the Lord as well as promote personal interests, encourage a certain department or major or to honor or memorialize a family member. These scholarships often come with a personal touch, a little added affirmation. That’s why the dinner is so special.”

More than 60 percent of invited donors will attend this year’s event.  

For donor Barbara VanderBrug, this is another chance to spend time with the student she is already mentoring. 

VanderBrug has funded the Women in Business named scholarship for over 10 years. The scholarship is offered to a female business student and VanderBrug develops a mentoring relationship with each recipient. An entrepreneur who started her own business at age 48, VanderBrug seeks out students with potential who need an extra push.

“I wish that I had someone to encourage or mentor me when I was young,” said VanderBrug. “I had to motivate myself.”

The Named Scholarship Dinner will take place on Tuesday, November 9 at the DeVos Place. Approximately 1,275 donors and students are expected to attend.

Konyndyk has been involved in the Named Scholarship Dinner since its inception 25 years ago. She recalls that the gathering used to take place in “The Cave” in what is now the Fish House; only a smattering of donors and students attended. As the event grew, it moved to the Commons Lecture Hall, the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel and, finally, the DeVos Place convention center. DeVos Place is currently the only space in Grand Rapids large enough to hold Calvin’s ever-growing group of donors and scholarship recipients.

“Overall, this event is an opportunity to engage,” added Donna Joyce, the advancement event coordinator who coordinated this year’s scholarship dinner. “All involved, myself included, walk away reminded that we have so many reasons to give gratitude for what God has provided.”

*Calvin will offer approximately 2.9 million dollars in scholarship awards this academic year. Currently, 2,383 students receive academic scholarships, and approximately 1,225 students receive a named or departmental scholarship. These figures represent 62 percent and 32 percent of the total student body, respectively.

Detail of the table at the scholarship dinner

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