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University Communications

June 17, 2010

Freshman Olivia Armater Had the Best Answer
for “The Essential Question” at La Salle University

Olivia Armater

Olivia Armater and her mother Ann Armater

That groan you heard last summer was Olivia Armater realizing she had a project due at La Salle University before she started classes!  As part of a new program called “The Essential Question,” Armater had to write an essay based on one of three articles she would have to read. So, she was surprised and even “embarrassed” when her essay was chosen as the best one submitted. Her prize was a free semester’s worth of tuition.

“To be honest, when I first heard I had to do an assignment over the summer I was not happy. I was busy working and had a full summer already that I actually dreaded a school assignment,” said Armater, who is from Poughkeepsie, N.Y. “My parents actually had to nag me to get going on the assignment, so I had them read it so we could discuss it at dinner,” she said.

The Essential Question for this past academic year (and next year, as well) was:

"As members of a Lasallian community, what is our moral obligation to promote economic justice in our city, in our country, and in the global community to which we are inevitably tied?"

Armater read a New York Times opinion piece by Paul Singer titled, “What Should a Billionaire Give and What Should You?” The piece focused on Bill Gates and what his responsibility was to philanthropy, given that he can make huge donations and have a meaningful impact. Armater thought Singer was overly critical of Gates’ philanthropy.

“I picked this article because both of my parents work for not-for-profit organizations, and both are in charge of raising money for those organizations,” said Armater. “Therefore, there is a lot of talk in our house about philanthropy, and how important it is in supporting organizations that we care about. The whole article talked about this, so it made the most sense to me.”

The opening sentence of her essay began, “Philanthropy, to me, comes from the heart and mind. It is thoughtful and informed. The real philanthropist, whether a college student like me giving $50 to something I care about, or Bill Gates giving $31 billion to alleviate world hunger, considers the worthiness of the cause and the impact their gift can make.”

She concluded: “I recognize this still doesn’t reach the question of what I should do to help. Perhaps for me, a college student and certainly not a billionaire, my responsibility is to remain informed of the global issues and be willing to offer anything I can give to organizations around me that are dedicated to helping the underserved. The best things I can do are to be aware of the local food pantries, my high school, and other organizations that need all the help they can get. After all, doesn’t charity begin at home?”

At the presentation of her award, Armater’s work was praised in that it “reminded us that promoting economic justice cannot be successfully mandated but must come, instead, ‘from within.’”

Nine months after submitting the essay, Armater said, “Now, I think there was real value in the assignment, and it made me think hard and how we cannot judge people on what they give in donations.”

Armater is an undeclared liberal arts major, and she joined the University’s swim team this past semester.

Armater’s prize is named the “Brother Daniel Burke Essay Scholarship Award,” for the Christian Brother who was president of La Salle from 1969 to 1976. One biography said of him, “he mirrors the best of a scholar and leader.”