Bringing it back home: Scholarship Benefit Dinner celebrates 10 years of giving

Kevin Beggs of Lionsgate praised the Scholarship Benefit Dinner crowd for its history of giving. "Your contributions can make the difference in a student’s life and give him or her the kind of first-rate UC Santa Cruz education that so many of us enjoyed ourselves," he said. (Photos by Steve Kurtz)
UCSC sophomore Autumn Johnson, who is majoring in sociology and politics, is giving back through Slug 2 Slug, a student philanthropic organization. 

 Removing financial obstacles to attend UCSC will give more students "opportunities to create knowledge, develop leadership skills and change the world for the better," said Campus Provost/Executive Vice Chancellor Alison Galloway at the Scholarship Benefit Dinner. 

The UC Santa Cruz Grupo Folklorico Los Mejicas gave a warm, traditional welcome to the SBD crowd. 
Alumnus speaker Edison Jensen (Oakes '86, politics and international relations), a Santa Cruz attorney, spoke of the ways UCSC transformed him. 
During his remarks at the 10th annual Scholarship Benefit Dinner, Chancellor George Blumenthal spoke about UCSC's combination of hands-on education and research excellence.

Saturday was a kind of homecoming for UCSC's 10th annual Scholarship Benefit Dinner.

Held on campus for the first time in five years, the dinner, one of UCSC's premiere fundraisers, featured a rousing, Slug-centric address by alumnus Kevin Beggs, president of Lionsgate Television Group.

Lionsgate is responsible for hit shows including Mad Men and Weeds, and counted revenues in excess of $350 million this year.

Beggs used his success story to help make a salient point about a UCSC education: "The Banana Slug will eventually beat the hare because we are thinkers. And because we need a career that goes beyond zeroes and decimals. Our work needs meaning."

Hosting the gala event known as SBD at the University Center was a fitting way to mark a decade of this important fundraiser. The dinner sold out in record time. The university's efforts have raised $23.5 million for scholarships over the past decade, with 7,948 donors and 21,673 gifts. 

"It's great to see so many students here tonight," said UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal. The chancellor praised the UCSC Alumni Association, donors, and those who purchased tickets to the event for helping to ensure access to a world-class education, combining the experiential education of a "small liberal arts college model" with the research opportunities usually found in much larger universities.

During her remarks to the crowd, UCSC undergraduate Autumn Johnson, a Kresge sophomore, spoke of "paying it forward." Several years ago, her heart dropped when she found out the cost to attend UC schools. But scholarships helped her realize her dream, "and now I have an amazing opportunity to give back" through Slug 2 Slug, a student philanthropy organization that believes that "philanthropy is a positive feedback loop."

Fundraisers like SBD and organizations such as Slug 2 Slug are becoming increasingly important these days. More students than ever now need financial assistance to attend the university, and in recent years, low- and middle-income families have been particularly hard-hit by increased costs.

More than two-thirds of UC undergraduates received some form of financial assistance in the past academic year. Today, 70 percent of undergraduates require financial aid to attend, about a 20 percent increase since 2002. Tuition for in-state full-time undergraduates has increased 75 percent since 2002-03.

But optimism—not gloom—was front and center at SBD on Saturday night, especially when Beggs (Porter '89, politics/theater arts) spoke about the invaluable edge that Slugdom provides in the working world.

He argued that a UCSC education can prepare young people for most any career anywhere—including the notoriously competitive world of Hollywood.

Beggs described his immersive experience on campus:

"I was attending 8 a.m. political theory classes with (the late political theorist) Jack Schaar and rehearsing plays until midnight," Beggs recalled. "Who had time for sleep?"

Breaking into Hollywood wasn't easy. "Temping at Arrowhead Water isn't sustainable beyond a few weeks," he noted.

 Later, after putting his film and TV job search into overdrive, "it was daunting … (but) I soldiered on, convinced that if I could get my foot in the door they would learn that I had more to offer than just a paper degree. I was a UCSC graduate! I could innovate, create, and accomplish."

Beggs went on to a key position in a company that has been part of the cable revolution with one acclaimed series after the other.

"And all along the way I have tapped into my unique UC Santa Cruz blend of politics and theater arts," Beggs said. " Story. Personalities. Strategy. The long game. It is everything I learned in Richard the 2nd at Shakespeare Santa Cruz combined with Machiavelli's The Prince. Hollywood is not for the faint of heart, and I know I could never have navigated it without my UC Santa Cruz education."

Beggs is part of a growing coterie of successful Hollywood Banana Slugs including Rick Carter, the production designer who won an Academy Award this week for his work on Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg. In 2011, Beggs served as the keynote speaker at a UCSC symposium, Bridging the Gap, designed to foster strong connections between the campus and its many successful entertainment industry alumni, especially in the film and television industries.

The audience also gave a warm welcome to Edison Jensen (Oakes '86, politics), a Santa Cruz-based attorney, and the first in his family to attend college, who spoke of his road to higher education and his desire to pursue social justice in the area of health care. Jensen is dedicated to helping low-income people and farm workers in the Pajaro Valley and Santa Cruz County.

After experiencing "the sting of prejudice," Jensen found common cause with the students of UCSC, where his life transformed. "I learned a lot about resolve, thinking big, and believing in myself," he said.

The event co-chairs were Santa Cruz Mayor Hilary Bryant (Porter '94, biology) and Santa Cruz County Supervisor Zach Friend (Porter '01, history).