Eric Fish, AB’03, earned a law degree at Loyola University Chicago and is a lawyer with the Uniform Law Commission. The recipient of two Metcalf Fellowships as an undergrad—one to work for then-Senator Peter Fitzgerald, the other for then-Governor George Ryan—Fish now volunteers as a Metcalf interviewer. He has also hosted several externs at his Chicago office.Why did you get involved with your Senior Class Gift committee?I come from a blue-collar family. My dad was a steelworker; my mom’s a schoolteacher. The fact that the University had the funds to bring in kids like me, who might think it’s out of their league—and then, once they’re at UChicago, to provide the opportunity to really take advantage of their potential—was very important to me.Was it difficult to ask your peers to donate?I’ve been handing out political fliers since I was about three years old. To be shunned by people on the street is not too unfamiliar.
My dad was a precinct captain. I realized years later that it’s a lot easier if you have a three-year-old kid with rosy cheeks, rather than a mustachioed steelworker, handing something to you. You gotta play your angle.Do you come from a philanthropic family?I grew up in Lansing, Illinois, just on the border of the city. My dad served as park board president, an elected position, but volunteer. He’s been involved in Little League and various civic organizations. He taught Special Olympics swimming. It’s the type of giving that a lot of people overlook, but it holds communities together.Has the culture of giving changed at UChicago since you were a student?I think it’s changing. The stereotype of UChicago is that if you see someone you know on the street, you put your head down. I want to get away from that culture. I would encourage younger alums to really invest in the College and invest in each other.
Lakshmi Shenoy, AB’05, earned her MBA at Harvard, then took a job as senior associate at Prophet, a strategic brand and marketing consultancy in Chicago. Her volunteer work for UChicago has included interviewing Metcalf applicants, serving as an alumni panelist at Taking the Next Step, and volunteering with the Boston Alumni Schools Committee. She continues to serve as co-chair of the Manhattan Alumni Schools Committee, even though she has moved back to Chicago: “It’s a 99-percent virtual commitment,” she says. “I’m good at nagging by e-mail.”Why did you get involved with your Senior Class Gift committee?By the time I was a fourth-year, I had already realized the virtues of the education I had received here and was starting to feel very sentimental. I think I was feeling nostalgic without even having graduated.
I really liked the approach of the Senior Class Gift, which focused on the act of giving, not the amount of money. When you are knee-deep in debt and still have a student job, quantity is not something you can focus on, but participation is.What did your role as committee chair involve?Most of the time, I did what any committee member did—I sat at a table in the Reynolds Club or outside the Pub. Monday night was ten-cent wing night, so that was a good time to ask. We would say, you’re getting a bargain, so can you give a dollar to the University?
We had a lot of fun with our Senior Class Gift because we built a branding effort around it. This was around the time when Lance Armstrong’s “Live strong” bands were coming out. Our angle was that everyone had a different experience at the University of Chicago and a unique connection. So the branding campaign posed the question, “What’s your bond?” We created these maroon rubber bands like the “Live strong” bands to symbolize “Your Chicago bond.”
After I graduated, I went into advertising. My work on the Senior Class Gift campaign was really useful when I was looking for a job. Once again, the University was looking out for me.Was it difficult to ask your peers for money?I was pretty social in school, so that made it easier. If I knew that someone had studied abroad, for example, I explained that a gift to the College Fund would make it possible for others to have the same opportunity.
They knew that I was not getting paid, that I was just doing this because I was appreciative of the education I had received. It felt very genuine.
That being said, there are many ways to say no. Occasionally someone wouldn’t say no in the nicest way. But then the next person might give five dollars instead of just one. That’s a win.