Scholarship Benefit Dinner raises funds for students in need

Guest speaker Precious Ward with Chancellor George Blumenthal.
Keynote speaker Camryn Manheim, center, with Felicia McGinty, vice chancellor, Student Affairs, left, and Barry Shiller, associate vice chancellor, Communications and Public Affairs. (Photos by Matt Fitt)

Nearly 250 people attended the fifth annual Scholarship Benefit Dinner Saturday, raising an estimated $160,000 for undergraduate scholarships.

Keynote speaker Camryn Manheim, an Emmy-winning television actor and 1984 graduate of Porter College, told dinner guests at the campus's University Center that UC Santa Cruz "gave me every tool that I needed to pursue my dream."

In her very personal address, alternately funny and serious, Manheim recalled hitchhiking to Santa Cruz in the summer of 1978 at the urging of the Flying Karamazov Brothers (the comic juggling troupe, that includes UCSC grads), whom she'd met at a southern California performance. After attending Cabrillo College to fulfill her language requirement--two classes of American Sign Language in one semester, a B+ in the afternoon beginning class and an A- in the morning intermediate session--she enrolled at UCSC.

She also got involved in the Myth California protest pageant--a backlash against the Miss California Pageant long held annually in Santa Cruz--organized by Nikki Craft, a UCSC student. "I got an academic education from the city on the hill and an activist education on the streets of Santa Cruz," Manheim said.

She said she acquired chutzpah and a belief she could do anything. When she left UCSC for graduate school,"I believed in myself," she said.

Manheim thanked scholarship donors for making UCSC accessible for students who might not otherwise be able to afford to attend.

Precious Ward, a 2006 Oakes College graduate, also spoke of her time at UCSC as being transformative. She said she represents "the foster youth, the youth who reside in group homes, the orphans, and the runaways who aspire for a better life but lack the resources.

"I represent those who have struggled and survived, struggled and survived a thousand times over," Ward said. She received a variety of scholarships during her UCSC years and personally thanked the many individuals who helped her along the way.

She told the audience, "it may appear as though you are just writing a check, but I assure you that scholarships create a chain of effects."

Ward now attends New York University, working toward a master's degree in nonprofit management. She hopes eventually to run an agency to help disadvantaged people realize their goals.

Chancellor George Blumenthal and his wife, Kelly Weisberg, spoke of the need for scholarship funds and the enormous benefits they can achieve. Weisberg, a law professor at Hastings College of the Law, noted how she relied on scholarships to complete her education after the death of her father when she was 19.

For the first time, donors provided a matching gift. Hierarchical Systems Research Foundation and an alumni donor committed $25,000 to match any first-time donations and increased gifts. Also for the first time, an online auction contributed to the proceeds.

Guests included UCSC alumni and supporters from around the region and across the state, as well as local residents and members of the campus community.

Earlier in the day, Manheim participated in a free, public question-and-answer session hosted by UCSC media expert L. S. Kim.