Renee Morita (College of Social and Behavioral Sciences)
Renee Morita (B.S., political science ’81; MPA ’85) doesn’t identify with the label “donor.” She doesn’t consider herself a wealthy person. But she and her husband, Angus Edwards, have made possible 25 scholarships in the U’s Master of Public Administration program in as many years.
In 1998 soon after her beloved parents, Tom and Chiyo Morita, passed away, Renee established a scholarship endowment in their honor with the modest inheritance that they had left her. She has added to it every year since. “Every bonus check went straight to the fund,” she said, even when their finances were tight. She views that choice not as a sacrifice but as a blessing. Recently, Renee and Angus decided to expand the impact of the Thomas H. and Chiyo H. Morita Endowed Scholarship Fund by setting up a legacy gift through their will. Their past investment in students has paid great dividends—all 25 Morita Scholarship recipients have graduated with their degrees. And they’d like to do more.
An only child with no children of her own, Renee regrets that the Morita line ends with her. But the Morita Scholarship Fund allows her to preserve her parents’ memory and values. Renee credits her parents for her commitment to good works and her value of education. From a young age, Renee’s parents instilled in her the significance of giving back. They called it “paying it forward”—and in Renee’s family, paying it forward is an action not a philosophy. Tom and Chiyo Morita’s generosity was remarkable given their life experiences. Both U.S. citizens, they were interned for three years during WWII because of their Japanese descent. They lost almost everything: their homes, jobs, and even family photos and heirlooms. They could keep only what they could carry.
“By paying it forward, my parents were able to endure the discriminatory acts that they experienced. They remembered the people who helped them,” Renee said. Renee’s parents rarely spoke about those painful years. But she knew they faced hardship, indignities, and the loss of their lives as they knew them. However, they didn’t allow those experiences to make them bitter. “My parents found each other, as well as their adopted Utah home, amidst the horrors of the internment of Japanese Americans. Then, together, they unselfishly transformed those horrors into opportunities for others. I know no better definition of heroism,” said Renee.
Renee never viewed attending college as optional. Her parents sacrificed to make it possible for her to attend the University of Utah. “They always told me to get a college degree so I could enjoy the opportunities denied to them,” said Renee.
So, Renee made her years as an undergraduate student at the U count. Despite being initially overwhelmed and intimidated, she volunteered with several local and state political campaigns through the Hinckley Institute—and even attended a symposium in Washington, D.C., during the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan.
Thanks to her involvement, staff at Hinckley encouraged her to apply for a scholarship during her senior year to pursue a graduate degree. Being selected for that scholarship came as a surprise to Renee and boosted her confidence. It helped her complete her Master of Public Administration and made her want to pay it forward. For more than two decades, Renee has shared her parents’ story with Morita Scholarship recipients. She passes on to them her parents’ belief that education allows people to learn about the injustices of the past and how to protect our freedoms in the future.
“My father,” Renee said, “advocated education as a means to end discrimination and ignorance.”
When Renee hears the Morita Scholarship recipients’ personal stories, along with the hardships each has faced, she feels gratitude for her opportunity to help. “Their motivation motivates me,” she said, and “their fortitude fortifies me.” Some Morita Scholarship recipients have already paid it forward. Renee knows her parents would be pleased.
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