For much of my adult life, I have tried to return to my alma mater, the University of Georgia, a portion of what the institution has given me. I say “a portion” because I can never totally repay the debt I owe UGA for the honor of being a Georgia Bulldog. But that doesn’t mean I can’t try. After all, to whom much is given, much will be required. (Luke 12:48).

I have had the great honor to serve as president of the University of Georgia’s national alumni association and to have been a member of the UGA Foundation. I have endowed a professorship in Crisis Communications Leadership in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications. Over the years, I have served on numerous committees, spoken at faculty retreats and to incoming freshmen and hosted seminars. 

However, nothing I have been involved in has been more rewarding or brought me more satisfaction than a program called the Yarbrough-Grady Fellowships. They are funded in part from revenues received from this column. 

The program is administered by faculty and staff at the Grady College and has been ongoing for more than two decades. It began as a student support fund, allowing students in the college to attend conferences and seminars in their fields of interest as well as bringing noted professionals on campus to speak. It later morphed into internships until finally it was constituted into its present form: Fellowships.

Truth-in-advertising requires me to say that I am funding fellowships for which I could never qualify and in a journalism school I could not get into today. This assumes, of course,  I would have even been granted admission to the university, which, given my less-than-stellar academic performance in high school, would have been somewhere south of zero. Thankfully, I got in and out of the place when I did. Timing is everything.

This year, seven Yarbrough-Grady Fellows were among UGA’ s 2020 graduating class. This group happened to be all female and all brighter than the proverbial penny. Their geography is diverse. Lindsey Deutsch, Caitlin Oh and Julia Strother are from Cobb County. Serena Graham is from Forsyth County. Allison Chenard hails from North Carolina, Mary Gardner (MG) Coffee from Texas and Maddie Fiorante from Oregon.

Sadly, they like the rest of the seniors across the country in the 2020 graduating class, have been denied the privilege of a formal graduation ceremony because of the coronavirus pandemic.  That makes them and what they have accomplished no less special.

They join a group of Fellows from over the past decade who are scattered around the country in advertising agencies, PR firms, the media, nonprofits and a number of Fortune 500 companies.  Working with the staff at Grady, we are creating a special network for the Yarbrough-Grady Fellows to stay in touch with each other. My firm expectation is those Fellows in the workforce will serve as mentors to those about to join it. I can think of nothing more valuable that could come out of this program.

If anybody tells you they are self-made, they are blowing smoke. If we have accomplished anything positive in our lives, it is because someone helped us. We have all had a mentor or, more likely, mentors. 

I was fortunate to have had a mentor named Jasper Dorsey who was himself a Grady grad and a passionate supporter of all things UGA. He was vice president of Southern Bell’s operations and found something redeemable in this young manager.

Jasper Dorsey taught me about the world of business.  But, he also taught me about life. I am far from the only person to have been mentored by this wise man. He touched a lot of lives and we are all the better for it. One of his mantras was that we should all leave this world better than we found it. Otherwise, we have simply wasted time and space.

I will admit I have wasted a lot of time and space in my lifetime and I am not sure how much better this world is because I have been in it. But it is my hope that the young people who have been and will become a part of the Yarbrough-Grady Fellows program in the future will collectively and individually make a positive difference in this world. If so, they will have made my time here worthwhile and I will have gone a long way in repaying the debt I owe my beloved alma mater.

•Dick Yarbrough is a four-time winner of the Best Humor Column by the Georgia Press Association. Reach him at yarb2400@bellsouth.net or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139.