A few years ago I had the privilege to participate as a member of a university scholarship interview panel. One of the questions we asked the incredibly bright, well-rounded high school seniors was, “What legacy would you like to leave at this school?”  Having worked in development and fundraising for several years, I thought I knew what the answers would, or should, be: named buildings, endowed family scholarship funds, new clubs or academic organizations, a more aesthetic campus … legacies that were tangible, visible and measurable.

Boy, was I surprised by their answers. “I want to have been a good friend.” “I want my school and my family to be proud of the work I will do because of my degree.”  “I want to help people.”  “I want to make new students feel like they are a part of this family.” “I want to have done my best.” Wow. 

While the first definition of the word “legacy” is often a gift or bequest, it also can mean anything left for the next generation. In other words, legacies stem from both the fruits of our labor and the desires of our heart, content and character, investments and integrity.

The answer to the age old “WHAT do you want to do when you grow up” question doesn’t seem to be as much of a noun now: teacher, president, regional associate for a community foundation. (What? You haven’t heard that one before?) Today the response is more of an adjective: helpful, kind, honest, loyal … it’s “HOW do you want to be?”  

It is scholarship season at the North Carolina Community Foundation right now. I, along with my other regional associate colleagues, have been in contact with guidance counselors, parents, youth leaders and students across our regions to share with them the scholarship opportunities available because of our donors: a tangible legacy of philanthropic generosity and belief in education. It is partly because of that legacy that students across our state will be able to learn, grow and eventually leave their own legacies, in their own unique ways.

In recent years, these students have taught me a unique facet of legacy. In the micro view, it is the work and contributions of the individual. But stepping back to see things from the macro perspective, we realize that it is the collective partnerships and the application of different perspectives, talents and gifts that truly make a legacy.

Working with the boards for our affiliates in the Sandhills region has, even in the short time I’ve been with NCCF, shown me some of the legacies they are demonstrating and leaving in their counties: in Harnett – importance of education and family; in Hoke – faith and hospitality; in Rockingham – perseverance and strong work ethic; in Moore – compassion and friendship; in Randolph – stewardship and diligence; in Lee  – a spirit of community and collaboration; and in Montgomery – strength in both independence and in unity. I’m positive my colleagues can share similar board legacies across the state.

Encouraging that in our communities?  Now there’s a legacy.