Last Word: How I Made My Alma Mater Matter
Reconnecting with Bucknell through the Posse Scholars program
Sylvia Sukop ’82
For some, whether you’re five or 25 years out, your relationship to your undergraduate alma mater is tethered by little more than a bullet point on a résumé. This was certainly true in my case.
I graduated from Bucknell in 1982 and lived seven years each in Boston and New York (plus one year in Germany on a Fulbright Fellowship) before settling in Los Angeles in 1997. Since then, my East Coast life has receded ever further in the rear-view mirror.
Over the years I didn’t think much about Bucknell. I never attended a Reunion, and I didn’t look up classmates on Facebook — well, okay, except for an old flame from senior year, long since married with children. Only once did I venture out to a mixer for Southern California. I knew no one, and there was no one to help break the ice. The experience only widened the gulf between Bucknell and me.
Then last summer, I learned that Bucknell was preparing to choose 10 Los Angeles public high school students to receive four-year full-tuition scholarships through an exciting partnership with the Posse Foundation. Each year, Posse Foundation affiliates in seven American cities identify public high school students with strong academic and leadership potential who may be overlooked by traditional college selection processes. In teams — or Posses — of 10 students each, supported by scholarships, mentors and each other, students achieve a 90 percent graduation rate, well above the national average. Since its founding in 1989, Posse has sent 3,100 Posse Scholars to 37 colleges and universities throughout the country.
Discovering this new connection between my home-state alma mater and my adopted West Coast city electrified me. I pictured two bright lights pulsing on a giant map of the United States, one in Lewisburg and one in Los Angeles, and a stream of positive energy circulating between them, and myself a part of that, not only because I have lived in both places but because I was invited to participate in the Posse selection process.
Last fall, I joined dozens of other local volunteers in helping to winnow the L.A. applicant pool from more than 2,300 down to 160 finalists for 80 Posse scholarships to eight colleges and universities that partner with L.A. Just before Christmas, Bucknell officials visited L.A. to meet the University’s 20 finalists and, in an unusual move, were able to award scholarships to 11 (rather than the usual 10).
In January I attended the Posse award ceremony in the elegant auditorium of the Colburn School of Music in downtown L.A. along with hundreds of proud family members and teachers. Throughout this spring and summer I will serve as a volunteer writing tutor for the college-bound L.A. Posse Scholars. Come September, 11 of them will enter Bucknell’s Class of 2014, joining 85 fellow Posse Scholars from Boston and Washington, DC, who are already at Bucknell.
I will be rooting for them all as they navigate life in their new community, my old community. And I will look forward, in a few short years, to welcoming them into the far-flung circle of Bucknell alumni who sooner or later find ways to give back.
Sylvia Sukop is a writer and artist based in Los Angeles. She adapted this essay from two stories originally published on The Huffington Post. You can read those and other pieces by the author at www.huffingtonpost.com/sylvia-sukop.