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Senior Toast celebrates student philanthropy, ongoing engagement with WCU

senior toast

Cheers to student members of the 1889 Club.


More than 50 soon-to-be graduates of Western Carolina University raised their glasses in a celebratory salute to their forthcoming designation as alumni and to their current status as engaged members of the Catamount community as student philanthropists.

Recognized at the annual Senior Toast on Tuesday, April 23, the seniors are among 400 student members of WCU’s 1889 Club, a giving society acknowledging students and young alumni for their financial gifts to the institution. That total includes 202 new student donors who joined the 1889 Club this fiscal year.

The 1889 Club includes those who make annual gifts to the Fund for WCU in amounts ranging from $18.89 for current students and graduates from the past five years and $188.90 for alumni who graduated between 2014 and 2018 to $1,889 for alumni who graduated more than 10 years ago. It is named in recognition of the year of WCU’s founding.      

amber goodwin

1889 Club member Amber Goodwin.

Student philanthropist Amber Goodwin, a business administration and law major from Biscoe, said she was inspired to make a donation to WCU to help give back to a school that has done so much for her.

“Coming in as a first-generation student, I was afraid I was going to have to figure things out on my own. Neither of my parents received a four-year education. They didn’t really know anything about financial aid or registering for classes, so I felt like I was on my own,” Goodwin said.

“However, once I discovered resources like MAPS (Mentoring and Persistence to Success) and the First Gen Club, they reassured me that I wasn’t alone, that there were fellow students facing similar challenges and that, together, we could find our way. As a student, I believe it's crucial to contribute to the university community. Each new wave of students brings diverse needs and aspirations. Therefore, it's essential to ensure they have the resources and support to achieve their goals effectively.”

As an inaugural member of the Catamount Philanthropy Council, Pinehurst resident Sara Renfrew said she has gained a new understanding of the importance of private giving to public institutions such as WCU.

sara renfrew

1889 Club member Sara Renfrew.

“I was led to make a gift to the 1889 Club as I became educated about the funding of WCU and how much of it comes from donations, rather than funding from the state. And as I worked with the Catamount Philanthropy Council, I learned about all the cool benefits that come with being a member of the 1889 Club,” said Renfrew, a cultural anthropology major with a minor in management.

“I believe it is important to give back to the university because it allows you to be a part of the legacy of WCU and contribute to the betterment of our soon-to-be alma-mater. Whether you donate to a specific area or WCU as a whole, giving allows you to shape the future of the university and ensure it continues to thrive.”

C.J. Mitchell, outgoing Student Government Association president and a member of the Catamount Philanthropy Council, opened the Senior Toast by offering congratulations to the graduating seniors and thanking them for beginning a tradition of supporting WCU even before walking across the stage at commencement.

“WCU has given me some of the best memories and opportunities of my life, many of which were made possible by the contributions of alumni and friends who invest in us as students. That's why giving back is so important to me. I want to pay it forward and help another student experience the same life-changing memories and opportunities that have affected me so profoundly,” said Mitchell, a Charlotte resident and business major.

Becoming an engaged member of the WCU family and remaining one after commencement was a significant part of remarks from Chancellor Kelli R. Brown.

“By choosing to give back to your alma mater before you even graduate, you are setting an example for future generations of Catamounts to follow. You are showing that you care deeply about WCU and its mission, and that you want to make a difference in the lives of future students,” Brown said.

She told the student 1889 Club members that donating to WCU is just one method to stay engaged with their alma mater.

“As you move forward in your lives and careers, I urge you to stay connected to WCU in any way you can. There are countless ways to give back to the institution that gave so much to you,” Brown said. “As you leave here tonight, I hope you will remember the importance of engagement. Your commitment to WCU doesn’t end with your graduation; it’s a lifelong relationship that will continue to grow and evolve over time.”

WCU alumnus Kenny Messer, who grew up poor in rural Haywood County and who now travels the globe as CEO of an international chemical company, shared his philanthropic journey with the students.

“My greatest accomplishment is I can say I have given to this university for 38 consecutive years. I gave to this university starting with the year I graduated. You guys are ahead of me. There wasn’t an 1889 Club when I was here,” said Messer, a 1986 graduate.

“When you get scholarship money from this university, somebody made a conscious decision to invest in your future rather than buying a second home or another car or going on vacation. You guys are carrying on that tradition, and I commend you for it. You’re an ambassador for this university.” 

Following remarks, the chancellor toasted the graduation seniors: “Here’s to the past, to your years as students at Western Carolina University. Here’s to the present, to the joy we share in your accomplishment. And here’s to your future. Best wishes for lifelong success and happiness. Congratulations, Class of 2024,” Brown said.

James Hogan, a 2003 WCU graduate and assistant vice chancellor for engagement, closed the event by leading the group in the singing of the “Western Carolina University Alma Mater.”

The students’ contributions come as part of WCU’s “Fill the Western Sky” comprehensive fundraising campaign, an effort to raise $75 million for the university’s academic, student engagement and athletics programs. For more information or to make a contribution to the campaign, visit, call 828-227-7124 or email

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