Paying It Forward

Imagine if, after overcoming poverty to become the NBA’s #1 pick, basketball’s next superstar  donated his lifetime earnings to charity. Imagine him saying, “$95 million for 5 years? A Nike deal? That’s 100, but someone else needs it more”. Twitter would explode. ESPN analysts would go crazy. Obama would give him some love.  It’d be a Thing.

Yet in 1916, would-be pro golfer Chick Evans did just that. After decades of toiling away on the driving range and practice greens, the 26-year-old had just won two major championships. Now he was on the precipice of  not just professional success, but long awaited financial security. With his endorsement deals and prize winnings, he could finally correct for years of economic disadvantage. Maybe he could get a car. Buy his mom a new house. Or if he wasn’t up to splurging, he could at least finish the college degree he abandoned for lack of money. Right? Instead, he pledged his lifetime earnings to a four-year, full-tuition scholarship for financially needy golf caddies.

As far as shopping sprees go, it’s unconventional to say the least.

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From funding two scholars at Northwestern in 1930, the scholarship has expanded to include 10,000+ scholars at over 14 universities. As a Evans Scholar, I can attest to its transformational effects. I’ve always been thankful to Chick in a general “yay  no loans #blessed” sort of way, but only as I inch toward a big kid job with a big kid salary have I grasped the depth of his sacrifice. Within the scholarship is an expectation of social mobility, that years of long loops and long nights will yield the financial security of our dreams. After 26 years of sacrifice, something in Chick’s psyche must have tempted him to grab the money and never let go. Certainly, nobody would have blamed him for doing so.

In one silent moment, staring down the sunset on a drive home from work, I pondered all of the opportunities I’ve been granted- my world-class education, unforgettable friendships, quarter in Ireland, ability to justify a low paying career- and realized how easily Chick could have prevented all of that through one choice. Sometimes, when my fellow scholars and I are together, trading snarky comments during The Bachelor, talking internships and study abroad, dancing at formals, I wonder where we’d all be had Chick just gone pro instead.  

And in so doing, I’ve realized that opportunity doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The Evans Scholarship doesn’t exist just to relieve my student loans, facilitate my study abroad, support my professional growth, or even arrange my closest friendships. Beyond helping scholars unlock their individual potentials, it empowers us to mobilize our newfound intellectual and social capital in service of others. After all, capital only generates wealth when it accumulates.

Indeed, Chick’s impact hasn’t been limited to the scholarship’s 10,000+ recipients.  Behind each scholar are parents and guardians relieved from college expenses and kid brothers and sisters inspired by their sibling’s success. Then consider that Chick has catalyzed the careers of 10,000 doctors, lawyers, engineers, businessmen, lawyers, teachers, and et cetera. By nature of funding their college educations, he’s built bridges, taught children, pioneered technologies, built companies, and in the case of doctors, literally saved lives. In the spirit of the butterfly effect- a kid gets a chance to attend college, becomes a doctor, treats children in Africa, thus enabling their own futures –  it’s impossible to quantify the magnitude of his sacrifice. That this cascade of good, almost 100 years old, all originated from one man’s selflessness  is kind of staggering.

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As my class of Evans Scholar seniors enters the real world, we each have a chance to spark our own cycles of altruism, Whether through corporate donations, service work, or funding our own scholarships if we’re feeling a little frisky, we can match Chick’s contributions with our own. And if alumni donations to the scholarship are any indication, we will. Chick may never have finished college, but he’d be more proud of that than any degree.

 

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