Photo Courtesy of Matt Benton
Psi Upsilon’s newly inaugurated president Joshua Voorhees and his fraternity brothers spent the past few months tabling in Joslyn Plaza and cold-calling alumni. They’ve asked businesses, family members and Psi Upsilon chapters nationwide for donations to help permanently endow the Cameron Johnson Memorial Scholarship at Pepperdine University. To Voorhees, reaching the $100,000 mark was “one of the best Christmas presents” he could have ever received.
“It warms our hearts,” Voorhees said of he and his fraternity brothers. “I can’t tell you how much it meant to all of us.”
The scholarship hit its target Dec. 27, a few weeks ahead of the Jan. 31 deadline, Laura Fehlbaum wrote in an email. The team effort between Psi Upsilon and Pepperdine Advancement was created to honor and remember the life of Psi Upsilon member Cameron Johnson, who died while traveling in Ecuador last year during his time in the Buenos Aires program.
Former Vice President Justin Wirawan said much of the credit for this scholarship is owed to Psi Upsilon most recent president, Stuart Slayton. After another fraternity brother, Brennan Tatem, passed away two years ago, Slayton helped Tatem’s family create a private scholarship that is exclusive to active members within Psi Upsilon. This scholarship is funded by Tatem’s father each semester.
Slayton wrote in an email that Psi Upsilon has also established a fund to erect a memorial bench on Alumni Field, the funding of which will begin later this semester. For Johnson’s memorial scholarship, Psi Upsilon paired up with Pepperdine to make the fraternity’s mission a reality.
While the campaign ultimately proved successful, Voorhees — who was pledge brothers with Johnson their freshman years — said that some considered $100,000 to be an unrealistic goal.
“I think it was the third day of donating that we got a call from our national director,” Voorhees said. “He heard about our initiative, and he wanted to talk to us because he wanted us to set realistic expectations. Little did he know we had raised $50,000 in three days.”
All-in-all, the scholarship accrued 531 donors who gave a total of $106,036 and counting.
“Honestly, I’m super surprised at the amount of people who donated that much money,” Wirawan said. “The sheer scale of people who were willing to give was super inspiring. [There were] so many people who didn’t even know him.”
While Wirawan said he did not know Johnson as well as other fraternity brothers, he mentioned that Johnson’s “pure, genuine honesty” was what made him so memorable.
“He was just the guy who would go straight to the point with you, past the ice-breakers and all of that,” Wirawan said. “This was a guy who was 100 percent genuine, which is why we wanted to create a scholarship in his name because this is what we want all Pepperdine students to have.”
Given that there are a few weeks until the official deadline of Jan. 31, there is still an opportunity to donate. However, the overall goal of $100,000 will not be increased in the remaining time, Fehlbaum wrote. Exact criteria for winning the scholarship has yet to be decided, but Wiriwan said the decision will involve the Johnson family in partnership with Pepperdine Advancement in choosing which student “is best representative of the qualities they want to put forward.”
More than anything, Wirawan and Voorhees spoke to their gratitude towards the huge network of donors that made this scholarship possible.
“I think this whole story just validates how impactful Cam was in Pepperdine’s entire community,” Voorhees said. “We can’t thank everyone enough. It means the world to us.”
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