IT’S MORE THAN TWO HOURS INTO MY PHONATHON SHIFT, AND IT’S BEEN A WHILE SINCE I REACHED A REAL LIVE HUMAN BEING. I HEAR A WOMAN’S VOICE AND START TO SPEAK, ONLY TO REALIZE IT’S ANOTHER AUTOMATED MESSAGE. I PUSH THE BUTTON ON MY COMPUTER AND WAIT FOR THE NEXT CALL … AND THE NEXT … AND THE NEXT.
The disappointment builds until … “Hello?” The voice is shaky, but it’s real, and I perk up. This is the best part of my evening calling Chapman University alumni and parents.
Over the next 15 minutes, I discover that my partner in conversation attended Chapman in the ’60s and enjoyed wonderful experiences. But as a woman of Japanese descent, she also describes the discrimination she faced during much of her life, including her time in a wartime internment camp. As we talk more, I share information about myself and life at Chapman these days, but mostly I listen and take notes. The call ends with warm goodbyes and a $20 donation
to the Chapman Fund. It could be $20,000 and I wouldn’t feel any better about the experience and her act of generosity.
Over the two years I’ve worked on Phonathon, I’ve learned a number of lessons — in patience, perseverance and, on occasion, diplomacy. I treasure the instances in which the pleasantries melt away and the connections deepen. I’ve talked with mothers who worry about their child’s mental health, fathers who wonder if they can pay the next tuition bill, alumni who are battling cancer and others who are excited about an upcoming wedding or the birth
of their first child.
Different factors inspire these conversations, though I suspect that an interested and sympathetic listener is always welcome. What fascinates me the most is how similar people are. Yes, the details of our lives differ, but on the most fundamental level the emotions and experiences are remarkably comparable. Phonathon reminds me that my time at Chapman provides more than an education. It makes me part of a family in which joy and fear, heartbreak and excitement go hand in hand. Of course, being a part of this community doesn’t protect me from setbacks. For every donation I receive, I wade through about 50 rejections. When the no’s start to pile up, I turn to my neighboring student callers for support. Some of these colleagues have become my best friends. Working together in such close quarters, we’ve gotten to know each other on a personal level. Let’s just say that the gossip and good times flow in the Phonathon room.
Lots of good has come from my time making these calls. As a student who benefits from the generosity of donors, I’m proud to help make the Chapman Fund a fountainhead of campus life and learning. The money we raise pays for scholarships, faculty excellence and student enrichment at Chapman. Then there are Phonathon’s other benefits — the friendships, sense of resilience and deep well of empathy. I’m keeping those for myself.