Reporting by Dale Goodwin (’86), Taylor Hornney (’16) and Kate Vanskike
Photos by Rajah Bose
Gonzaga students do amazing things in our community and the world. Here are four who demonstrate the Jesuit imperative to cultivate in young people a desire to be “men and women for others”* in unique and wonderful ways.
The Benevolent One
It was summer and Konner Sauve (’19) was watching the Oregon landscape whiz by the windows of the family car when inspiration hit. He’d just finished his junior year of high school and had been thinking about the typical struggles of that period. What if his fellow students had a little recognition for their unique talents and gifts? What if he could share those tidbits publicly, yet anonymously?
Over the course of his senior year, Sauve used an Instagram account he named “TheBenevolentOne3” to post a photo and a note of affirmation to every student in the class of 2014, 2015 and 2016 from East Valley High School in Yakima, Washington.
Initially, students doubted its duration, thinking it would peter out within a month. When it didn’t, their attention turned toward figuring out who was behind it. During the graduation ceremony, when Sauve delivered his covaledictorian speech, he revealed his secret. The class went wild. The audience gave him a standing ovation. At a graduation party, a friend said she had called the local media to share the story and after that aired, the national office of ABC News called for an interview. The Benevolent One became a sensation on Instagram, where his account grew to 11,000 followers.
Quoting Maya Angelou, Sauve posted, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” He continued, “It is easy for people to be cruel over social media, so I decided to counteract the negativity. Over the past year I saw a change occur in our high school, a positive one; it seemed as though we were more united.”
That message received 4,400 likes and 800 comments, including this one from Granbury High School in Texas: “I love this account so much I made one for my district!”
When Sauve arrived at Gonzaga as a freshman that fall, some students instantly knew who he was. A similar Instagram account then started at Gonzaga called “DailyDoseofKind16” with a simple slogan: “Our words matter.” Sauve wasn’t directly involved but he definitely inspired the movement.
He’s the first to say the outcomes of The Benevolent One weren’t what he expected. “Going in, I was looking to recognize other people and make them happy. Then I realized how much happier I was myself in doing that for others.”
Sauve is working on a degree in psychology to complement his deep desire to listen to and help people. We think he’s going to do just fine in that line of work, don’t you?
Tacos with a Purpose
Brett Konzek (’16) is a people magnet. That gift – and his huge heart – became a major bonus for freshmen looking to find their way.
A biology and environmental studies major, he worked in University Ministry, where he loved the opportunity to connect with students new to GU. Thus began his Thursday night spaghetti or taco dinners for an eclectic group of freshmen and a handful of handpicked juniors and seniors who could listen to, and help direct, these newcomers. In addition to offering a meal off campus, Konzek’s weekly gathering also featured a lesson or activity, based upon experiences he had as a member of Gonzaga’s Comprehensive Leadership Program, University Ministry retreats or his time as a resident assistant. They watched TEDtalks and wrote personal mission statements, for example.
“Everything that happened at these dinners impacted my freshman year positively,” says Billy Bartell III (’18). “It was a time to learn from the experiences or mistakes of the upperclassmen and relate them to our own lives.”
Konzek chalks it up to what he had learned in his previous three years in various positions of leadership, along with a desire to offer a positive special setting for freshmen. “I wanted them to connect to students other than through the party culture,” he says.
“I don’t know how he does it, but after five minutes with Brett you leave considering him one of your closest friends,” says Father Brad Reynolds, S.J., assistant University Ministry director. “It’s not just charism. It’s a generosity of spirit and an open, welcoming heart.”
She’s Got Your 6
Sarah Martin (’16) served for eight years in the Army, the only female in a small firefighters unit out of Yakima that also completed a tour in Afghanistan. In May, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, but, truth be told, what she really wants to do is serve veterans.
That’s what she’s been doing while working on her degree at Gonzaga – in a full-time position through AmeriCorps and the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs. She’s a social worker of sorts, helping vets and service members find the resources they need; like last fall when two students couldn’t make
their house payments and she connected them to the appropriate agencies. But the real purpose, says Martin, is to “Let them know their voices are being heard.”
She knows instinctively how important that is.
She also knows how hard it is for veterans and military service members to find their way within a college system geared to the traditional 18-year-old student. She understands that for many of them, getting a college degree is a “fallback” – something to provide work if they can’t continue doing whatever their primary passion may be.
For Martin, being a firefighter had been a childhood dream. After doing it in the military, however, she tried her hand with paramedic training. Ultimately, she was introduced to Gonzaga when she moved her sister here, and fell in love with the campus. She found criminal justice an interesting subject, but not nearly as fulfilling as the work she has done to support her fellow brothers and sisters.
Particularly important was the 22 Boot Display, a suicide awareness project. Did you know that 22 military members/veterans commit suicide every day? That’s something Martin wants us all to remember. She also wants us to remember the vets who are still among us, many of them struggling to find their way again.
“They’ve gone through a lot just to get here, to be students,” Martin says. “I want to recognize their success and their sacrifices both during and outside of school.”
She did that at the close of last semester. All 45 veterans and military service members in the graduating class received red, white and blue graduation cords at a special ceremony.
She also worked to help the University achieve a more accurate representation of its veteran population. Next on her dream sheet is revisiting a “Got Your Six” program (military lingo for “I’ve got your back”), which would help Gonzaga faculty and staff better understand the on-campus veteran population.
Martin says, “That will be huge, for more people to know how to offer their support.”
As early as first grade, Madison Rose (’18) struggled to make the grade. She worked during recess and still fell behind. Six years later, a teacher recognized that if Rose could take tests orally, she could prove her understanding better than on paper. Her grades went from barely passing to A+.
Rose was diagnosed with a number of learning disabilities: dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity, dysgraphia (difficulty with written expressions) and short-term memory deficit. More importantly, tests showed what was right: She was incredibly bright. With the appropriate accommodations, she would excel.
“There’s a statistic that says if life were decided by a third-grade reading assessment, then there would be a prison bed out there with my name on it. But I beat those odds,” Rose says. “It’s time we start understanding people with learning disabilities by asking questions and having productive conversations. That’s how we’re actually going to change things.”
While a sophomore at Gonzaga, Rose was honored as a Campus Compact Newman Civic Fellow for her service as the coordinator of Eye to Eye, a national mentoring program that creates awareness about learning differences. She takes every opportunity to be the saving grace for kids who, like her, need a way out of that learning disability prison.
Someday, Rose wants to be the U.S. Secretary of Education so she can bring systemic change to the American educational system.
“I need to be changing policies, figuring out ways to make our school systems work,” she says. “We need to make sure things are just for everyone.”