The Joy of Giving Back
In 2020, Dr. Michael Sellers '78 and his wife Elizabeth made a donation to Southern California College of Optometry of $1 million, an extraordinary gift that is in many ways a measure of his pride in the education he received at SCCO, his appreciation for what the profession of optometry has afforded him, and his desire to give future optometrists support that can change their lives.
This generous gift from the Sellers is the largest gift SCCO has ever received from a living alumnus or donor.
"As someone who is relatively new to the SCCO family at MBKU, I am continually amazed at the passion of the alumni for this institution," says Dr. Jennifer Coyle, Dean of the Southern California College of Optometry at MBKU. "Dr. Sellers is a wonderful example of this. His and Elizabeth's gift shows in a tangible way the heart Dr. Sellers has for supporting students with resources that will help them to focus on becoming the best optometrists they can be."
Dr. Seller's determination to advance and support the profession of optometry was based in part on a moment he never forgot while a student at SCCO. Richard L. Hopping, SCCO's president at the time, had a habit of popping into classrooms to share his considerable wisdom. "Dr. Hopping, who influenced me more than anyone as a student and who became a good friend, told us one day: 'There are a lot of good charities out there, but they have many people they can ask to give. Optometry has a select few. So, when you get to the point that you can give, give to the profession.' This is why it's so important for me to support optometry associations and my alma mater. I encourage other SCCO alumni to join me in supporting the long tradition of exceptional SCCO optometric education! It is important for us to foster the continued success of the next generation of optometrists."
Dr. Sellers has long believed that the importance of giving back is rooted not just in a desire to support the profession but also in a deep sense of gratitude. "In the course of your life, if it has met or exceeded our expectations, there were people who helped you," he explains. "You have to be respectful and grateful to those who helped you and give back to people and institutions to the best of your ability."
Naturally Dr. Sellers is interested in supporting SCCO in whatever needs are most pressing, so he is pleased that a large portion of his $1 million gift will go to the fund for renovating the Basic and Clinical Sciences Building, where optometry students receive the bulk of their education. However, a significant share of his gift is also reserved for a specific area he believes is of great importance, and this is again due to his sincere thankfulness. "I have a soft spot for scholarships," he says. "The financial impact on individual students is huge, and it's one I remember well, because I received them and was supported even though I wasn't necessarily a stellar student."
"The Sellers' gift provides transformational private support for our students, faculty and staff," says Joan Rubio, Vice President for University Advancement. "It has been a great pleasure getting to know Dr. & Mrs. Sellers and to see this generous gift come to fruition. His sincere appreciation for SCCO and his education is heartwarming and inspirational."
Dr. Sellers has been giving to students through scholarships ever since the late 90's, when he and his late wife established the Michael and Stephanie Sellers Scholarship at SCCO. Stephanie Sellers was loving and generous, and she and Dr. Sellers were happily married for 30 years when she tragically passed away from cancer. A few years later Dr. Sellers met his second wife Elizabeth in church, and in her he found a partner who shares the spirit of altruism Dr. Sellers had enjoyed with Stephanie. As a part of their new gift, Dr. Sellers and Elizabeth established "The Sellers Scholars," which will award a large sum of money to a student for all four years of their MBKU education.
"No guts, no glory!" says Dr. Sellers. "A huge commitment like that gets students' attention. I want them to see how serious SCCO is, but also how serious the optometrists who believe in SCCO are in getting them to come to the best optometry school in the country. I want the student to know: 'Wow, they believe in me.'"
"We are so honored by Michael and Elizabeth Sellers' gift to MBKU," says Dr. Kevin L. Alexander, President of MBKU. "Dr. Sellers and his wife are devoted philanthropists and Dr. Sellers is a proud alumnus of SCCO. One of my favorite moments in the process of planning their donation was seeing his excitement when we proposed establishing the Sellers Scholars. Dr. Sellers has a made a substantial commitment not just to MBKU as an institution, but also to individual students, who will benefit from his support for years to come."
It's not just students that Dr. Sellers hopes to inspire with his gift. Just like his mentor Dr. Hopping, Dr. Sellers wants his fellow optometrists to get a taste of the joy of giving back, to their alma mater and to their profession. "What you get back when you give is incredible. The thrill is great. I only wish I could have done more and sooner!"