A Cause for College


Illustration by Sophia Evans

An illustration depicts how charity is often considered to be a gateway into college.

Dylan Graff

As Skyler Griswold ’24 went out to recess in third grade with a backpack full of lanyards, she said all she could think about was the goal of 240 dollars she had set for herself. The night before, Griswold had toiled for hours to create all sorts of bracelets and crafts to sell her classmates. While most kids might be saving up for the latest iPad, Griswold was set on donating her profits the money to Operation Smile, a global organization that gives cleft lip and cleft palate surgery to children in need. Though she didn’t know it at the time, Griswold said that small donation would spark her lifelong interest in activism.

“I spoke at the Operation Smile gala in Los Angeles, and then continued speaking on behalf of the organization,” Griswold said. “From there I got some attention from people who were at the event and started getting asked to speak on behalf of a lot of different organizations, which I did for a few years. In the summer of 2018, I realized that I wanted to have a platform of my own. I was asked to speak at the United Nations, and that’s when I decided it was time to launch my own nonprofit.”

Almost five years later, Griswold is the founder and President of Future Generations Now, an Internal Revenue Service recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with the stated goal of raising funds and awareness for issues surrounding education, equity and the environment. For her work over the past few years, Griswold received the honor of 2022 United Nations Global Youth Humanitarian , something she said she couldn’t have done without support.

“I’ve worked with the UN relatively closely,” Griswold said. “I’ve spoken there one or two times in the past. They sent an official letter asking me to come to New York to speak and accept the award, and it was very surreal. It’s great to be recognized for all the work that I’ve done over the years, and I’m very appreciative of everybody who helped me get to this point.”

Griswold said she has had to work hard to balance Future Generations Now with her schoolwork. This summer, Griswold said she was unable to accept the Global Youth Humanitarian Award from the Better World Fund at the Cannes Film Festival because her math final was the next day. Griswold said although she plans on continuing her work, she does not anticipate her academic schedule clearing up any time soon, but that continuing her work with Future Generations Now is a priority in the long run.

“I absolutely want to do it for as long as I can and definitely through college,” Griswold said. “Once I turn 18, I will be able to be paid a salary as the CEO, and it can be a job for me throughout college. That way, I can dedicate a ton of time to it, and have it be legitimate work for me. After that, hopefully I’d be able to do something a little more lucrative in terms of a job, and then find ways to tie this in so that it’s still a constant part of my life.”

Throughout her involvement in community service at the school, Griswold said she has seen many other students develop charitable organizations only to later abandon them, something she said can often be attributed to the organization’s founder having alternative priorities. While some of these organizations do valuable work when they exist, Griswold said a lack of true passion can make any organization unsuccessful.

“The way I see if it’s helping anybody or creating some sort of good change, I have nothing against it,” Griswold said. “But a lot of the time, they have ulterior motives. It kind of ticks me off when I see people that aren’t putting in the work, or sometimes it’s wealthy people that are funding it themselves and it fizzles out, because they can’t fund it forever. It also does give a bad rap to people who are trying to do legitimate work.”

While Griswold has been participating in charity work from a young age, other students, like Ryan Kim ’23, have become involved more recently. Through a spring art sale at the school, Kim and his friends raised nearly three thousand dollars, which he used to help build a kitchen for an orphanage in Guatemala. Kim said he found out about the issues in Guatemala through his dog groomer.

“My dog groomer was using all his tips to donate to this orphanage, which was pretty inspiring,” Kim said. “He didn’t have much, it’s not like he makes a bunch of money, but he’s still willing to donate to this organization. After the art sale, I also did a clothing drive. So when we went to a public daycare for children, I was able to give them some clothes and make backpacks for them.”

Kim said the firsthand experience of giving back helped to humanize the issues he had read about online and seen on the news. While in Guatemala, he said he saw children eating off of concrete-filled tires and rain pouring through the broken roof of the orphanage’s kitchen. For this reason, Kim said the personal experience of giving back was gratifying..

“When I was there, I was taking Polaroids for the children,” Kim said. “And I remember all of the kids being super appreciative. There was this one little girl who gave me her favorite rock, and that was a pretty cool moment.”

While Kim said he cares deeply about the issues that exist in Guatemala, the role his charity work might play in the college admissions process crossed his mind.

“For me, there was some aspect [that doing service in Guatemala would] help me for college, but the majority of it was because I wanted to help other people,” Kim said. “If you’re faking charity work or making things up, that’s not okay, but the bottom line for me is whether or not you’re actually making a positive impact on someone.”

Morgan Beckerman ’24 said he sees no issue with creating a charity, even if the motivation behind it is college-related.

“The good that they’re doing with the charity offsets the negative intentions of it,” Beckerman said. “I think doing charity itself is altruistic no matter what the intentions are behind it, so I would consider it neutral.”

Cutter East ’24 said colleges should reexamine their priorities regarding charity, and take equity into greater consideration for the admissions process.

“It’s not an issue with the people making charities, but one with the colleges themselves accepting it as a reason to let them into the school,” East said. “If that is an opportunity for you to get a leg up, then I don’t see an issue with people with more money doing it. I just think it’s a problem that it can give you a better chance at getting into college, and I think colleges should make it more even regardless of how much money you have.”

Despite the belief among students that creating a nonprofit organization will help in the college admissions process, Upper School Dean Teneice Wesson said there can also be drawbacks.

“It’s not always the case that making a nonprofit will immediately make a student more competitive in the college admission process,” Wesson said. “If a student is heavily involved in something that they’re using as a part of their overarching narrative when applying for school, and they create an organization to expand whatever their focus is to other people, then that’s going to be received by college admission officers. But sometimes creating organizations like that, having the resources to create organizations like that, or even the personal connections to do something like that can often be a reflection of privilege. Colleges do try to be careful about privileging or elevating the activities of students, when what they’re doing might be a greater reflection of affluence.”

Wesson said creating an organization is not the only way to demonstrate initiative and leadership potential.

“Colleges are looking for concrete examples of students who are leaders in certain areas,” Wesson said. “But even that varies because creating organizations or having leadership roles within organizations might be a reflection of certain personality traits that that student has, and I think colleges are now trying to make the process more equitable by finding ways to focus on ways that students might even lead from behind. When a lot of colleges are reviewing applications, they might be looking for those buzzwords, like president, vice president, chairperson, leader, and founder, but some schools look to embrace students as leaders who might not have those formal titles.”