My friend George

If you’re reading this, you probably heard of the passing over the weekend of George Chin.  And if you’re reading this, you most likely knew George, perhaps for a long time, or at the very least you knew of him.  I don’t know how many practicing financial aid professionals there are in the country, must be well into the tens of thousands, and I know that every single one of them could play about two degrees of separation with George Chin.  There is no [fill in some letters]ASFAA not filled with people who have learned, directly or indirectly, but likely directly, from George.

George long ago earned rank into any financial aid old boys/girls network, if such a thing exists.  But that wasn’t George’s style.  In every financial aid association (and similar groups), the “how do we develop new leaders, what is it with these younger members, they just don’t care like we do” conversation takes place over and over again – usually among the veterans who won’t get out of the way and let the younger members move into positions of leadership.  George was always the one who recognized that the only way to get younger members involved was to invite them, to encourage them, to empower them.  My initial foray into any type of association involvement or leadership was in the late 90’s when George was the new EASFAA president, and he asked me to co-chair the Training Committee.  Nowadays, I’m one of the, uh, more mature members of the community who tries to encourage young’uns to broaden their horizons in the ways he encouraged me.

But George influenced my career in other important ways too.  We all learn financial aid in the weeds, from sweating the details.  Then we go to conferences and listen to federal updates and similar sessions and see a much broader perspective.  It would all sound like distant, detached government speak until someone like a George Chin would get up and tie it all together…that this grunt work we’re doing in our offices, one calculation, one email, one aid package, one student at a time, was all part of an important public policy decision that dates back generations by now…that America will be a stronger country if higher education isn’t just for those fortunate enough to have it all paid for without a worry by affluent parents. Financial aid exists not to give number crunchers some busy work, but to lift people out of poverty and into better lives.  It was George who inspired me to look at financial aid not just as helping one student at a time but also as public policy.  I would never have chaired federal relations committees, submitted written testimony to Congress, served on Negotiated Rulemaking committees or gotten involved in similar career highlights were it not for George.  And everyone who sees me step up to the microphone as soon as a presenter says “OK, we’ll open it up to questions now” and thinks to themselves “great, him again” has George to blame…or I would prefer, to thank.

But more important that the influence he’s had on the financial aid path I’ve chosen is that it’s been people like George who have kept decision makers – members of Congress, members of advisory committees, Department of Ed officials, and all of his colleagues – honest by reminding them what we’re doing this for.  Not for ourselves, not for our schools, but for students who are going to make this a stronger society by being better educated.

Our best tribute to George would be to encourage our colleagues to embrace their important roles in this thing we call financial aid and in all of the ASFAA’s, and to keep that pressure on those decision makers, now more than ever.  Rest in peace, my friend, our friend.