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Students Reignite These Cal Alums’ “Spark”

August 5, 2019

Larry Gray ’79

“Every time I step on campus for whatever reason, I feel a charge,” Larry Gray ’79 says, “so that’s part of the benefit of [volunteering to interview scholarship applicants].”

Going to Cal was something that had been hammered into Larry’s head for as long as he could remember. His father was a Golden Bear who played on the football team during the Great Depression and wanted for his children to attend Cal, too. “There was no second thought. High school, Cal. The fact I got in was a break,” laughs Larry.

It wasn’t until he graduated that his love for Cal grew—almost “like a virus.” He’s willing to donate whatever he can to Cal, talking with leaders at the alumni association to find new ways to reach out to alumni and create programs to bring more resources to Cal and its students. He says he’ll even sweep the floors if they asked him. “I wish there were more opportunities!”

Larry has been volunteering with The Achievement Award Program (TAAP) since it started in 1999 and has interviewed students every year. Each year he’s met students with captivating stories and drive to succeed. He says he’s interviewed people who’ve come from other countries, not knowing anyone and barely speaking English, as well as people who support their families while maintaining their studies and community service work. He admits it’s hard to stay with the given questions he’s required to ask. He thinks the students are all fascinating people, and he wants to talk with them more.

“When there’s time left in the interview, I usually take the lead. I say, ‘You ask us questions’ then it opens up a dialogue.”

Larry is always looking for fresh ways to give back and be of service to Cal. He’s even met with directors to create more openings to volunteer and connect with other alumni. “Every time I step on campus, for any reason, I get a charge,” he says. “If you have a feeling for Cal and you want to help out, you should [volunteer]!”

Barbara Peppard Sutak ’67

“I didn’t realize I was making a big impact,” says Barbara Peppard Sutak ’67. She saw interviewing students for the The Achievement Award Program as another volunteer opportunity. “It’s free! I can come here, I can do what gratifies me and in turn, I can accomplish something at the same time.”

Barbara graduated from UC Berkeley in 1967 with a degree in history, and she’s been interviewing students for the TAAP program since its inception in 1999. Her volunteer work with the alumni association, however, goes back to the 1980s. Like other volunteers, she says being back on campus is energizing and seeing the new students coming makes her excited about the future. “It’s kind of a nostalgia trip to come back to campus and see how it’s changed and see how it’s the same.”

At a time when the country was experiencing several social, political, and ideological shifts, Barbara was getting through her time at Cal with the Free Speech Movement in full swing right on Sproul Plaza.

“There are a lot of young people coming through who are the first in their family to go to college. I salute that. I learn…as much from them as they may learn from me.”

“What I learned at that point is that the world is full of all types of people,” she says, “I found out that I could push my way through and graduate in four years with all sorts of stuff going on.”

After volunteering for 20 years, Barbara knows exactly what she’s looking for in a scholarship applicant. She says it sounds kind of “spacey,” but she’s looking for a spark. “I’m looking for a young person who has a glint in his or her eye, who wants to do something, accomplish something either personally or on a more global scale.

“There are a lot of young people coming through who are the first in their family to go to college. I salute that,” she says, “I learn, I think, as much from them as they may learn from me.”

Thomas Tramble ’71, C.Esing ’72

Thomas Tramble ’71, C.Esing ’72 is one of the first people in his family to go to college, but that wasn’t a big concern for him while at Cal. He just knew going to college was something all the other kids his age were supposed to do after high school. “Getting accepted was a step. Once I got past that door, I didn’t know what to do or what to think about education next.”

As a young student, making it to college was as far as Thomas knew to do or thought was possible. He says while he was at Cal, paying for all his expenses was his biggest concern. To pay for his school and living expenses, he worked various jobs, including painting his aunt’s house. Between his registration fees, his car insurance, and other things, just graduating was good enough.

“Academics [were] not a big priority for me,” he says, “I didn’t realize there [were] graduate school[s], so I didn’t prepare so I could be a good candidate.”

He eventually got his master’s degree in education and went on to have a long career in public education, but he wishes there had been scholarship opportunities like TAAP for him. If there had been, he wasn’t aware of them. In fact, he says if he had known, he might have pursued his first goal of being an architect because the materials needed for the environmental design program had otherwise been too expensive for him to afford.

Now retired from public education, Thomas has been volunteering for The Achievement Award Program by interviewing students for the past five years. Many of the students’ experiences mirrors his own. However, one of the stories he heard this year stuck out to him more than the others.

“These kids are going to change the world.”

“Today we were interviewing two Pakistani girls,” he says, “and both of them say the [culture and] lifestyle of a female born and growing up in America [differs] from the expectations of a Pakistani girl [from Pakistan]. They are pursuing a pathway that’s so different from what their parents understand.”

Just like the Pakistani girls’ families, Thomas’s father didn’t understand either. Thomas lived with his family while in college and had to be on campus for a 10 p.m. quiz. His father didn’t believe him and was reluctant to let him go. Thomas didn’t have another way to explain it. It sounded strange to his dad, but it was the truth. He had to take this quiz. His father eventually allowed him to go, but 20 minutes after Thomas arrived at class, his father showed up. “[My father] didn’t understand college. He didn’t understand the culture, but he wanted me to succeed.”

“Keep your eye on the prize,” he admonishes to applicants. The challenges of college can be distracting, but it’s important to stay focused. “These kids are going to change the world.”