How One Act of Generosity Can Change a Life

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Grace Merritt

3 min read

Javante Danvers is living proof of the life-changing power of scholarships.

“If you had told me years ago that I’d be at a four-year university taking classes like this I would have told you that was impossible,” said Danvers, of Hartford. “I’m still shocked to this day that I’m graduating in a few months.”

photo of javante danvers
Javante Danvers, scholarship recipient.

Danvers, an allied health major who plans to become a nurse practitioner, was speaking to about 100 scholarship donors and student recipients at an upbeat, second annual Celebration of Scholarship Reception at the Alumni Center recently. Not only is Danvers grateful for the opportunity to be the first in her family to go to college, she fully intends to pay it forward.

“My scholarship gave me the tools to continue my education and modeled how one act of generosity can change someone’s entire life,” she said. “I can’t wait until I’m able to impact a life the same way my donor has impacted mine with a gift of a college education.” She is the recipient of the Dennison Nash Undergraduate Scholarships Fund and her story is featured in the UConn Foundation’s Transform Lives Impact Report.

Throughout the night, many donors had the chance to meet the students receiving their scholarships as they mingled over hot hors d’oeuvres followed by UConn Dairy Bar ice cream sandwiches.

Braley Degenhardt, a senior acting major, gave a passionate testimonial about her experience studying Shakespeare via the Robert A. McDonald Semester in London Fund.

“I came back from London a changed individual,” she said. “I would not be as confident, as independent or as significantly career focused as I am without my time in London. And the person I have to thank for that is [retired faculty member] Bob McDonald. Without Bob and his generous donation to the department of dramatic arts, the program simply would not exist.”

Keynote speaker Bill Clemens, UConn Foundation board member, described how meaningful it was to receive a thank you note from his scholarship recipient that he proudly displays in his office. He established the William B. Clemens III and Walter Whitnack Scholarship Fund.

One of the evening’s speakers, Dan Toscano ’87 (BUS), talked about meeting his student, Bryant X. Mercado, a business major who received the Joseph P. and Rose M. Toscano Memorial Scholarship.

photo of dan toscano and bryant mercado
Dan Toscano ’87 (BUS) and student scholarship recipient Bryant X. Mercado

“We just met for the first time. He’s a freshman. He’s the fourth student we helped make their way through UConn,” said Toscano, chairman of the UConn Foundation board of directors. “It’s an honor to watch this army of people come out of the university prepared to take on the world, solve problems, be successful, and be great Huskies,” he said.

“The way I think about it, having once been a student here-and now being a donor and a UConn parent-is we’re all on this trek together. We’re all at different points in the journey, but all have so much in common. This is a university of “bootstrap” people who came from a variety of means and are in the process of or have made successes of themselves as adults.”

Toscano thanked the donors for enabling the students to succeed and praised the students for their tenacity.

“It may not be easy to get here. It may not be easy to stay here. But you guys are fighters,” he said. “You’re smart, you’re motivated, and you’re willing to do the hard work to be successful.”

UConn President Susan Herbst also thanked the students for making UConn Nation proud and thanked the donors for their thoughtful philanthropy.

“Thanks so much to so many of you here tonight for giving what I think is the most transformational gift you can give to the university,” she said.

Herbst and her husband, Doug Hughes, have established a scholarship as well: the Susan Herbst and Douglas Hughes Family Scholarship in the Humanities.

Since launching the $150 million Transform Lives Scholarship initiative in July 2013, the UConn Foundation has raised $90.7 million for student scholarships.

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