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Lilly support provides needed reflection for students

By Darcy Johnson ’78

When I graduated from PLU in 1978, I walked across the stage and immediately established my career. My work as an investment manager was launched by the bachelor’s degree I received in business administration.

Along the way, of course, I had my share of forks in the road. I analyzed, assessed and stewed over life-changing opportunities, waiting for the magical moment when my decision would feel “right.”

Throughout my time at PLU, I knew what I wanted from my career: challenge, variety and engagement. But I never thought about what the world wanted from me. Somehow, by the time I graduated, PLU instilled in me a higher calling than just monetary achievement. The faculty I encountered, administrators I worked with and students I helped created in me a need to do more, and challenged me to better represent humankind through the choices I made.

In 1988, I made the difficult decision to take a break from my profession as a fund manager to stay at home with my children. Walking away from my job was made easier by the joy and love of those three kids. Around the same time, our congregation was approached by a low-cost housing development company, Common Ground, looking for a partner in its first project on the east side of Seattle.

Although my immediate reaction was to think “out of my league,” I was also inextricably drawn to the project. The effort was going to require a lifetime commitment from our church, and the stewardship of a board with the right expertise and dedication to see the project to completion.

Soon after, with the help of Common Ground, St. Andrew’s Housing Group was born. The small nonprofit that started with nothing in 1988 now owns and manages seven properties with three more in the works. The properties are currently valued at over $20 million, but the real value is that 2,000 people who want an opportunity to improve their lives now have access to low-cost housing.

Though I’m no longer on the board of St. Andrew’s Housing Group, I realize how richly blessed I have been to be in a position to help get it started.

Interestingly, it was my work with the nonprofit that brought me back into active involvement and service to PLU 20 years later. The Alumni Association graciously awarded me with an Alumni Service Award in 2001 based on my work with the housing group. When my name surfaced in association with the award, I received a call from a business professor emeritus, Dwight Zulauf.

He said, “Darcy, the School of Business needs you.” It was this phone call that firmly reconnected me with the university, and made me aware of some of the exciting initiatives happening on campus. Now as a regent, chairwoman of the executive advisory committee for the School of Business and guest lecturer on campus, I am thrilled to see projects like Wild Hope giving students a framework for life choices that for me were much more difficult to navigate.

Today’s students are challenged in the same way I was as an undergrad, but with an overlay that dares them to ask the “big questions,” those that address the very core of our purpose as humans: Why am I here? What will I do with my life? How can I serve?

This awareness is thanks to the generous support of the Lilly Endowment, which funded PLU’s Wild Hope Project to help students develop a sense of their greater purpose, or vocation. It has provided an infrastructure and focus that will ensure that all students have the opportunity to enrich and enhance their lives by considering their calling and vocation.

Whether you’re an alum, student, parent or friend of the university, you should be proud of PLU graduates. They are, truly, a breed apart with an understanding of how to nurture an inquisitive and passionate sense of vocation and purpose. Today’s students are blessed to have the tools for thoughtful inquiry, service, leadership and care.

Darcy Johnson ’78 is a regent, campus guest lecturer and chairwoman of the executive advisory committee for the School of Business.


leadership & service

© Scene 2006  •  Pacific Lutheran University  •  Winter 2006

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