Patriotism. In an election year, all the hyperbole of what and who (as a leader) will make America realize its aspirations muddies the meaning of the word for me. But when I think about my work at UMass Boston, from the muddy water emerges a crystal clear example of patriotism. Ever since our Celebration of Support event last spring, which pairs donors and their scholarship recipients, I haven’t been able to get one family out of mind — the Brehm Family.
Since the mid-1980s they have been one of the university’s generous donors, but until last year they were little engaged with our campus. In 2011, Ella and Harold Brehm, both donors to the Ella and Samuel Brehm Scholarships, passed away. Fortuitously, the Brehm family’s loss resurrected the university’s relationship with them.
Stan Brehm, grandson of Samuel Brehm and one of Harold and Ella’s sons, connected with us to pass along an additional $25,000 estate gift from his parents to the Brehm scholarships.
The origins of the Brehm Family philanthropy are simple. Dr. Harold Brehm was an orthodontist and Ella, a pharmacist. Harold never forgot his City College of New York roots, and so, when he decided to make a charitable investment, he chose a more local “City College,” UMass Boston, as the recipient.
Educational opportunity meant everything to the Brehms and during their lives it brought them fulfillment to know that their well stewarded resources continue that tradition for urban students.
So it was an especially sweet homecoming when Stan, his wife wife Candace, two of their children, a son-in-law, and a niece, attended our scholarship reception to meet Kim Phung Pham ‘13 recipient of a Brehm Scholarship. Still suffering from the passing of their parents, meeting Kim heartened their grief.
Kim explained how education at UMass Boston has transformed her life. She says, “five years ago, when I arrived from Vietnam, my world changed.” She went from being a self sufficient adult, “to feeling like a baby who had to depend on other people for everything.” The Admissions Guaranteed Program (a UMass Boston pre-collegiate program) changed that. She received help from tutors and “discovered people who believed in me.”
My memory of the Brehm family huddling around Kim to hear her story resonates powerfully when I think of patriotism. I probably wouldn’t have even been thinking about such a lofty concept had it not been for my daughter. Over the past year we waded through a dense US history text book for an high school honors course.
Encountering American history afresh has been a good thing. Of all we took in, I was most impressed by Thomas Jefferson and his ideals (not fully realized, of course) that this nation was different from Europe in that it aspired to educational opportunity for all, not only for the privileged. And that education was the required foundation for an effective democracy.
So as I remember the Brehms and their joy at meeting their scholar, their patriotism (and mine) feels powerful indeed. America is truly a place of remarkable opportunity, and higher education is the greatest mid-wife to its realization.
Nan Cormier is director of advancement communications