Watson estate gift creates scholarship for Miami students with military background

Donald Watson

Donald Watson

written by Vince Frieden, university development communication

On his Miami University graduation day in 1967, Donald Watson had a moment of clarity that he has never forgotten.
“I remember thinking that my life would never be that good again,” Watson said. “There’s some truth there.”
Life did go on, though, leading Watson to service in the U.S. Air Force and a rich blend of cultural experiences and professional challenges that have resulted in a life well worth living. In gratitude for the scholarships that made his time at the university possible and in appreciation for the preparation he received for life after Miami, Watson recently committed to an estate gift endowing the Donald W. Watson Scholarship.
“A depth and breadth of knowledge, an ability to think logically about a variety of subjects, cultural understanding and wonderful professors who permanently influenced my life all added up to a very special experience at Miami,” Watson said.
The Donald W. Watson Scholarship will support one or more undergraduate students who are U.S. military veterans, active-duty or active-reserve members of the U.S. military, or Miami ROTC students. Its designation comes from Watson’s appreciation for his own military experience and for the men and women who serve the country.
A native of Ripley, Ohio, Watson attended Miami because of its affordability and its academic reputation. He was an honors student majoring in German and minoring in geography, the assistant accompanist for Men’s Glee Club, and a member of Phi Beta Kappa honorary society and Phi Mu Alpha music fraternity. He was on scholarship each semester and held a variety of on-campus jobs.
“I greatly appreciated not only the ability but the requirement to study a diversity of subjects,” Watson remembered. “German, music, geography, economics—it was all a lot of fun for me. I also appreciated the high quality of my fellow students and my professors, who were highly intellectual but who wanted to connect with their students.”
After graduation, Watson received his draft notice. He chose to serve in the U.S. Air Force because of the opportunity for language training, and he attended the Defense Language Institute for six months of intensive French. He spent four years in the Air Force, growing in maturity and acquiring organizational skills as well as developing respect for both leadership and teamwork. In looking back on his service, Watson’s appreciation for that time has only grown.
“At the time, like many of my generation, I didn’t want to go,” Watson recalled. “Now I wouldn’t change that experience for anything. I enjoyed tremendous camaraderie and support in the Air Force, even on occasions when I was not the model troop. I still feel a close connection to those who serve or have served the military. I’ve missed that time.”

Watson describes his professional life after the military as “wildly diverse,” and it led him to draw from all facets of his Miami and military experiences. He worked in home construction, machining, manufacturing engineering, technical instruction, sales engineering and consulting, software engineering, and computer system administration. He drew from his linguistics and cultural training to facilitate collaboration with personnel throughout Europe and Asia, including a stint in Bavaria interpreting for a group of German engineers.
Now retired, though still an avid learner and student of the piano, Watson took the occasion of drawing up his will as an opportunity to reflect on his life and the role Miami and the Air Force played in shaping his path. He sees his estate gift as a way of paying back an old debt and paying forward the opportunities he has been given.
“Miami was good to me,” Watson said. “I could not have completed my education without scholarships and without help finding campus employment. I’ve always wanted to pay that forward to students who have similar financial need, and now I’ve been able to do that.”