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Donors and Recipients Meet To Express Gratitude, Share Stories

There are many draws to receiving a college-level education. Yet with these opportunities come challenges to the process. Few students can complete a college education without the help of grants, scholarships, or other forms of financial aid. These opportunities can often mean the difference in success or failure to graduate.

Behind each of these students is a story. Furthermore, each scholarship tells a story about its donors. Occasionally, donors and students can come together to share one another’s feelings and experiences: an opportunity to meet the person behind the name or biography, build new connections and express gratitude.

Larry Erhardt, father of six and Aquinas alumnus, funds the Kristin Erhardt Memorial Scholarship. This year, Erhardt helped to finance the education of seven students through the fund. Named for his daughter, the scholarship was established to aid exceptional students with disabilities to complete their undergraduate education.

Kristin Erhardt, Larry’s youngest child, was born with Cystic Fibrosis. A bright student, her physical limitations meant Kristin was unable to go to school beyond the fourth grade. After her passing at age 24, the Erhardt family established the scholarship in her memory to provide opportunities for other students with disabilities who have demonstrated academic success.

On November 8, 2012, the Erhardts had the opportunity to spend time with the recipients of the scholarship at a dinner setting. This dinner unites recipients with the donor who help fund their education.

Among the students who have received the Kristin Erhardt Memorial Scholarship is Raven Tolliver. Tolliver, a sophomore at Aquinas, is from the Detroit area. Outspoken and witty, Tolliver sports a bright smile and is comfortable sharing her student experience. Originally drawn to Aquinas through the outreach efforts of the admissions department, Tolliver credits scholarship opportunities as a key factor in sustaining her tenure at the College.

Tolliver has warm words for Aquinas, particularly the intimate community. “I like that it’s small,” she said. “It’s pretty ideal.” Also notable is Aquinas’ location in Grand Rapids, a city that Tolliver finds readily accessible to the disabled. Tolliver, who is visually impaired and navigates with the help of a service dog, said, “It’s a very nice place. The public transportation system, and cabs - all the different things they offer - it’s just easy to get around. I appreciate that a lot: the city of Grand Rapids.”

While she is as-yet undecided in her major, her interest in philosophy is notable. When asked about her plans for the future, she smiled broadly and said: “Law school?” It is something of a question, yet she also mentioned an interest in professional dog training. Tolliver’s passions are diverse, and a liberal arts education allows her to explore those many avenues.

Students at Aquinas College are empowered to receive a diverse education rooted in core Dominican values. Tolliver feels this speaks to the integrity of the Erhardts and Aquinas as an institution.

“The one thing I really appreciate about this school - and these scholarship benefactors - it shows that they care about education,” Tolliver said. “You actually care that people are coming to get an education, and you want to help them get as far as they can, get a good degree.”