'I hit the wrong button!'

Joshua Hightower at the USF Digital Engagement Center

When an alum accidentally answers the phone, magic follows.

Feb. 16, 2024

For about 18 hours a week, Joshua Hightower calls alumni to chat about their USF memories, what’s going on at the university and advice they may have for students like him. He works at USF Advancement’s 15-month-old Digital Engagement Center, which aims to strengthen bonds between the university and its 378,000 alumni. 

While he’s enjoyed countless meaningful conversations, Joshua’s calls frequently go unanswered. Occasionally, people hang up on him.

But late last year, one call took an unexpected turn. It led to a financial windfall last month for Joshua and a life-changing alliance for the USF senior and a Class of ’99 graduate — who never intended to answer the phone.

“It was an accident! I hit the wrong button!” says LaShante Keys, chair of USF’s Black Alumni Society. “It was a Sunday afternoon, I didn’t know who was calling and I just wanted to relax. But he started talking and something he said sparked me.”

Says Joshua: “I was asking him about his experiences, and he started asking me about clubs and organizations I’m in.”

When LaShante mentioned he’d been a founding member of USF’s NAACP chapter, the conversation took off, Joshua recalls.

“I was so excited,” LaShante recalls. “This young man was taking his Sunday to call and generate support for the university. He could be doing anything else! I asked him, ‘What are you majoring in? What’s your GPA?’ I told him about the Martin Luther King Scholarship. It’s a great scholarship.”

Joshua took notes. Within the week, the mass communications major invited LaShante to join his LinkedIn network and LaShante, a successful entrepreneur, connected Joshua to a colleague who’s a journalist. Joshua also emailed LaToya Wider, the Alumni Association’s director of student programs, to request a scholarship application. 

Created in 1982, the scholarship recognizes full-time USF students who best represent King’s ideals and philosophies. In addition to other requirements, applicants must write an essay on how they’ve furthered King’s goals.  

That part was easy for Joshua.

“With community service, I’ve been able to give my time to those in need,” he wrote. “Through journalism I’ve been able to lend my voice, speaking for those who don’t have the means to do it themselves.”

He described volunteering with the Lamplighters of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. in Miami starting back in middle school and writing articles exploring issues of race. 

LaShante Keys, Black Alumni Society chair; Joshua Hightower and Kori Gooden, scholarship recipients; and Bill McCausland, vice president, USF Alumni Association, attend USF’s Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Brunch on Jan. 19.
From left, LaShante Keys, Black Alumni Society chair; Joshua Hightower and Kori Gooden, scholarship recipients; and Bill McCausland, vice president, USF Alumni Association, attend USF’s Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Brunch on Jan. 19. 

Joshua’s application won one of two $1,000 scholarships awarded this year, and in January, he was invited to USF’s Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Brunch to receive it. When he arrived, he spotted a face he’d seen only on LinkedIn.

LaShante was there to present the award, as he’s done for more than 10 years.  

“It was a little surreal to see him,” Joshua says. “I look out for others, but this experience with LaShante tells me people are also looking out for me. That’s a really good feeling.”

LaShante got a jolt as well. 

“He actually followed through!” he says. “He has a great future and I love being a part of that.”

The Black Alumni Society’s Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship was endowed in 2009 and has since benefited more than 50 students. Any full-time USF students can apply November through mid-December through the Office of Financial Aid’s scholarship site

“I’d love to see people contribute to the scholarship during Black History Month,” Joshua says. “Maybe the next student will get $2,000 or $3,000!”

Click below to contribute to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Endowed Alumni Scholarship.
 

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