Potvin first discovered the college on a basketball recruiting visit to Grand Valley State University. He and his father were looking for something to do on a Saturday afternoon and noticed in the newspaper that Calvin was playing Hillsdale.
“I had heard of Hillsdale because they’re a Division II school, but I didn’t know anything about Calvin,” he said. “We came to the game and the gym was packed. Just watching a Division III school play with so much passion and energy and almost beat this bigger school was really exciting. After watching the fans and students and seeing the campus, that’s when I decided it was a place I wanted to learn more about.”
A top graduate of his senior class, Potvin entered his freshman year at Calvin with a 3.8 grade point average. He received a merit scholarship for the first semester of his first year, but soon realized he wouldn’t be able to hold onto it. “I had basketball, which is like a full-time job, plus I had a part-time job; trying to keep up with my schoolwork was extremely challenging.”
Even though he no longer had the benefit of a scholarship after his first semester, Potvin was dedicated to staying at Calvin: “I think it made me feel like, ‘if I can get through these times then I can really accomplish anything I put my mind to.’” In and out of the classroom, Potvin faced the challenges of being in an academically rigorous Christ-centered college. “The professors want you to work hard and maximize the potential you have,” he said. “They challenge you not just academically, but spiritually. I never had that before.”
“All I kept doing was putting myself in the shoes of whoever was going to receive this. I thought if there had been a guy who was 25-26 years old and who was willing to support me with a scholarship when I was a student, I would have been elated.” — Jon Potvin
Though at times he felt unlike the other students on campus, coming from a different environment wasn’t a liability for Potvin. With his friends he discussed a variety of issues pertaining to their backgrounds. “We challenged each other — not like, ‘your belief is better than mine’ or ‘yours is right and ours is wrong,’” he said. “They learned about what it means to be Roman Catholic, and I learned more about the Christian Reformed tradition. It broadened all of our perspectives.”
Potvin, now a mortgage consultant at First Horizon Home Loans in Grand Rapids, Mich., was encouraged to enter the business world by Andy DeVries, who was Calvin’s internship coordinator when Potvin was still a student. “I started to meet with him, and he asked me a lot of questions. He thought that I would be good in sales. I was willing to give it a try, and I trusted him because he believed in me,” Potvin said. DeVries helped Potvin get his first job selling bottled water. “I was selling a free commodity out of the back of a van, of all things. It wasn’t the most glamorous thing in the world, but I learned a lot from it.”
A few years into his position at First Horizon, DeVries approached Potvin. “I think he knew I was having some success in my business, and he knew that I could attribute a lot of that success to what I learned at Calvin,” Potvin said. DeVries challenged Potvin to consider establishing a scholarship for a student like himself, someone from a public or Catholic high school who was interested in going into business.
Potvin started his scholarship fund with a small monthly gift, but the financial aspect seemed to him a small sacrifice. “All I kept doing was putting myself in the shoes of whoever was going to receive this. I thought if there had been a guy who was 25-26 years old and who was willing to support me with a scholarship when I was a student, I would have been elated.”
The first Potvin Scholarship was awarded in 2005, and Potvin is learning what it means to be a mentor. “I look at Andy as somebody who mentored me while I was at Calvin, and I look up to him as one of the most important people in my life,” he said. “One of the greatest joys that I could have would be to be like that to somebody else someday.”
And if he can support more diversity on campus, Potvin will be even happier. “(Diversity) doesn’t need to change peoples’ faith, and it doesn’t necessarily need to change how people live. All it does is help us learn more and grow more.”
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