For Mason faculty and staff who gathered at the Center for the Arts on January 25 for a reception thanking them for their charitable gifts to the university, the beautiful setting and camaraderie were no surprise.
What they may not have expected, though, were the inspiring personal messages conveyed by two of their colleagues, professors Linda Monson and Michael Nickens of the School of Music. Both Monson and Nickens spoke movingly of the purpose of philanthropy and why they choose to give to Mason.
“For me, receiving a scholarship when I was 17 years old and being able to go off to college made all the difference in my life,” said Monson, director of the School of Music and a professor at Mason since 1999. “If I had not had that opportunity, my life would be very different. And I feel forever blessed that there were people who believed in me. So it seemed so natural to simply want to give back to others.”
“When I look at these beautiful students that we get to teach every day,” Monson continued, “I think, how can we not want to give? We care about this place, we care about these students, we care about education … and we know how important scholarships are for people being able to achieve their dreams. So I thank those who believed in me earlier, and it is my privilege and my joy to be able to give back to others. I know that you all feel the same because you are giving, too!”
Since, as she quickly confessed, “I’d rather play than talk,” Monson concluded by playing a beautiful piano piece by French composer Claude Debussy.
Monson’s performance was followed by Nickens, the university’s 2016 Faculty Member of the Year. Reflecting on the academic path of one of his students, a key member of the Green Machine “who raps Kanye and sings Stevie Wonder,” Nickens said the student was attending part-time and in danger of not graduating due to a difficult family situation. After caring faculty members offered assistance, the young man graduated, found success, and has now applied to return to Mason for graduate studies.
Nickens followed that story by giving his own remarkable solo performance, combining music, original vocals, and beatbox sounds in what can best be described as a tuba-rap. Finally, Nickens and Monson teamed up to entertain their colleagues with a unique piano-tuba duet of the Gershwin classic “I’ve Got Rhythm.”
University president Ángel Cabrera and Vice President of Advancement and Alumni Relations Janet Bingham also addressed the group, thanking their colleagues for their gifts to Mason and noting what a powerful statement of support it is when those who know the university best choose to support it with their personal charitable giving.
About 900 staff and faculty donated to Mason in the past year. All gifts to the university can be designated to whatever purpose or cause the donor wishes, such as a specific scholarship fund, department, or program. Faculty and staff who wish to join their colleagues in giving can do so conveniently through payroll deductions, as well as through any standard giving mechanism.
An annual tradition, the Faculty-Staff Donor Appreciation event was held on the Concert Hall stage itself, beautifully decorated in deep blues, purples, and reds. The mood lighting, table lamps, and performance from a Mason Music Productions student jazz trio and alumna vocalist evoked the feel of an underground jazz club for the nearly 120 Patriots in attendance.
January 30, 2018 / RR