When Don Mash ’64 received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from IUP in 2015 and delivered the commencement address to the newest members of the IUP alumni community, he related a deeply personal story.
The son of parents who didn’t attend high school, Mash always knew he would attend college. His mother talked to him about it often—even after his father died in a work-related accident and she took on a job as a cook at an elementary school to make ends
meet. The promise of college was, simply, understood. He and his mother agreed that she would contribute what she could toward the roughly $1,000 cost of tuition, room, and board, and he would work summers to make up the balance.
After his freshman year at IUP—a difficult year fraught with adjustment and social and academic struggles that are typical of first-generation college students—Mash wanted to drop out and returned home to suggest to his mother that perhaps he wasn’t cut
out for college. To soften her disappointment, he offered several reasons, including that they could not afford the cost. But, when he raised the cost issue, she became stern and told him, “We’re doing our part now with the money. You need to take
care of your responsibility at school, because this is important to your future.”
“Her pride was challenged, and she challenged mine,” he said.
Mash went on to graduate and have a long and distinguished career in higher education, including a presidency at Wayne State College and a chancellorship at the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire. But, today, he said, things are different.
“Were we to have the college attendance conversation today, the decision would have been no, we can’t afford college, even at an affordable university such as IUP,” he said, noting that today’s tuition, room, and board costs are more than 20 times higher
than they were in 1960.
“This is a serious problem for our country, and if the downward spiral of access and opportunity continues, it will become a crisis, exacerbating the growing distance that already exists between the haves and have nots,” he told the graduating class,
urging them to become vocal advocates in support of public higher education and to stay connected to and support IUP.
Mash believes philanthropy is essential to leveling the playing field for many by keeping the opportunity for a college education within reach. He established at IUP an endowed scholarship in his mother’s memory to help students who come from circumstances
much like his own, and he recently began the process of establishing a second scholarship for student athletes who have financial need in memory of his late son, Donnie—“a terrific little athlete”—who died of cancer at the age of 11.
“Access to higher education is not simply an individual benefit,” Mash said. “Access to higher education is an investment we must make for the public good.”
Watch Don Mash’s commencement address on IUP’s YouTube Channel.
First appeared in IUP Magazine, Summer, 2015
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