Parents establish scholarship in son’s name as graduation gift

September 07, 2022 — As their son Sean Hopkins ’22 was preparing for his final year at Grinnell in summer 2021, Sandy Kaneoka and Tom Hopkins began laying the groundwork to donate funds to help with the purchase of new starting blocks for the Russell K. Osgood Pool and endow a new scholarship in Sean’s honor.

The Sean K.K. Hopkins ’22 Scholarship, which will be awarded for the first time this academic year, will support students who have demonstrated financial need and are in good academic standing. Sean’s parents informed him of this surprise capstone gift the evening of the College’s Commencement. 

Immediate past co-chairs of the Parents and Families Leadership Council, Kaneoka and Hopkins are residents of Santa Barbara, California, so it’s unexpected to hear that Kaneoka attributed their involvement with the College to proximity.

Tom Hopkins, left, Sean Hopkins ’22, and Sandy Kaneoka pose for a photo during a Grinnell College swim meet
Tom Hopkins, left, Sean Hopkins ’22, and Sandy Kaneoka pose for a photo during a Grinnell College swim meet at the Russell K. Osgood Pool.

Santa Barbara to Grinnell is a haul, but Naples, Florida, on the other hand – the site of the swim team’s annual winter training trip – is close to where Tom’s parents (and Sean’s grandparents) live. Sean swam for the Pioneers

“If the swim team’s trip was somewhere else, I’m not sure we would have tried to go,” Kaneoka says. “That lovely experience really gave us a chance to get to know Coach [Erin] Hurley, the team, and alumni. It opened up these opportunities.” 

Sunny Naples also was a far cry from their first visit to campus on a cloudy, rainy, and cold spring day during Sean’s junior year of high school. Kaneoka says they were immensely impressed with the facilities, the academic standing, and Coach Hurley, but Kaneoka (a West Coast lifer) and Hopkins (who grew up in Philadelphia and went to college in D.C. before heading out west), admit Grinnell took some getting used to. 

Tom Hopkins, left, Sean Hopkins ’22, and Sandy Kaneoka posed for a picture on the beach of Naples, FL.
Tom and Sandy had a chance to watch Sean and his Pioneers teammates compete at swimming events in Naples, Florida.

What really sold them on Grinnell was Sean’s certainty. Undeterred by the cold spring rain, Sean visited campus again that fall and applied early decision soon after. After visiting him during parents’ weekends and swim meets, Kaneoka and Hopkins noticed something different about their son. “Sean has that core of who he was when he went off to the corn, but he’s been totally transformed,” Hopkins says. “It’s more than just maturation. I’m convinced it’s because of the College, his fellow students, and professors.” 

Kaneoka concurs. “I never expected Sean’s worldview to be broadened so much in a little town like Grinnell.” 
While the couple make philanthropic contributions to nonprofits and other educational institutions, after meeting so many different Grinnell students, alumni, and donors, they knew a capstone gift was the best way to support the College’s mission. Hopkins says their inspiration for the scholarship came from a desire to “model paying it forward” and give Sean a graduation gift that was “a little bit more permanent and meaningful.” 

Sean, now a few months removed from graduation, is back in Santa Barbara and working at a property management software company called Yardi. He’s planning a trip back to Grinnell this fall to cheer on the swim team who were like his second family.

“While I may be in California, far from the jewel of the prairie, I intend to track this scholarship for many years,” he says. “This scholarship will help future Grinnellians have a rich and fulfilling college experience and give students the tools to make a positive impact on other people’s lives.”

— by Joe Engleman ’14

For your information:

Learn more about parent giving and leadership opportunities by contacting Tina Popson ’97, associate director of parents and families program, at

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