Leaving my legacy at KU

Posted on Oct 19, 2018 in Alumni News, Campus News, and News

Crimson and Blue Day banner

David Johnston, j’94, g’06, vice president for strategic communications and digital media, recalls his experience taking his oldest daughter to Crimson and Blue Day on Oct. 12.

Giving back

We’ve been talking a lot lately at work about the term “legacy” and what it means. That makes sense when you consider I work for the KU Alumni Association, which hopes to keep alumni connected to KU in ways that inspire so many Jayhawks to give back to their alma mater. You could even say that we’re in the legacy business. Yet when you boil it down to its essence, what is a legacy, really?

Throughout our strategic planning process–with working groups armed with survey data–we sought to define terms like legacy, pride, tradition and connection: the things we value and stand for at the Association. But legacy might be the most nebulous and difficult to define, even for professional communicators and self-proclaimed “word nerds” like myself. I supposed, conceptually at least, a legacy was simply something you leave behind.

Last week I learned what a legacy truly is, and I discovered that I was half-right.

Crimson & Blue Day

Oct. 12 was a big day at KU. More than 1,200 students and families came to the KU Office of Admissions’ Crimson and Blue Day Open House to tour campus and learn about admission requirements and scholarships while soaking in the spirit, pride and tradition of KU. I took my oldest daughter, Sydney, who has grown up in the shadow of Mount Oread, living in Lawrence her entire life. As a potential third-generation Jayhawk, Sydney (and her siblings, Sophie and Austin) fit the definition of a prospective legacy student at KU.

Sydney JohnstonEven a rainy day couldn’t dampen my pride as I got a rare opportunity to see KU through her fresh eyes; Watching her jaw drop in the expansive atrium of Cap Fed Hall. Getting chills while watching the video of Topher Enneking’s spellbinding spoken word ode, Welcome to KU. Seeing her giddy smile when bumping into the KU volleyball players she has idolized (and realizing they are now closer to being her peers). Sydney’s KU visit was both eye-opening and transformative… for me.

Legacy redefined

I started working at the University of Kansas in January of 2000, and not too long after, our first child was born. During my 18-year career working at KU, I have hoped that I will one day leave it a better place for the next generation. My contributions to KU, I assumed, would surely serve as my legacy, and really, what better place to make a lasting impact than at a place like KU; an institution that can–based on its bold aspirations–educate leaders, build healthy communities and make discoveries that change the world.

Should Sydney decide to eventually attend KU, she’ll have the world at her fingertips with opportunities to learn, lead and succeed in ways that any proud dad would hope for his little girl. With any luck, she’ll also be left with the values and life lessons her mom and I have tried to teach her along the way.

It became clear during her visit that she was indeed ready for KU and ready to make her mark on the world. Sending her off to college–and perhaps even dropping her off at KU–will be a difficult challenge saved for another day, but I know that I would feel incredibly proud to leave her at KU. And that’s when it hit me.

Leaving my legacy at KU took on new meaning for me last week. My legacy, I discovered, is not some thing I leave behind. It is someone.

–David Johnston

The KU Alumni Association’s Legacy Relations team can help alumni families navigate the KU admissions process by scheduling campus visits, advocating for students who seek scholarships and connecting parents and grandparents to campus contacts in financial aid, housing, etc. Email Joy Maxwell, director of legacy relations, at jmaxwell@kualumni.org for more information.

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