An undercurrent of bittersweetness flows through Colton Lewis’s life these days. He’s the young man who, in a much-publicized stabbing incident that took place at a house party in 2013, was nearly killed alongside his friend and University of Calgary classmate Brett Wiese; Wiese died at the scene. Today, Lewis — physically strong and tirelessly devoted to honouring his late friend’s inimitable spirit — was named the 2016 Outstanding Young Philanthropist by the Calgary chapter of the Spirit of Giving Awards.
The criteria for the award, which recognizes “philanthropic leaders… whose generosity can be characterized as voluntary, powerful, multifaceted, active and self-perpetuating,” certainly captures the positive force and passion that has defined Lewis’s life since that night. “I lived a positive life before Brett died, but now I’m more aware of the value of life,” says Lewis, BComm’15. Rather than fixate on the event that took Wiese’s life, and left him with lifetime injuries, he has focused his energy on creating and growing a scholarship at UCalgary’s Haskayne School of Business.
Soon after his release from hospital, and with the support of Wiese’s family, Lewis sketched out the criteria for the award. “I reached out to several of Brett’s other friends at UCalgary and in Ponoka, where he’s from,” says Lewis. He asked each to write a description of their late friend and what he meant to them. In reading each touching anecdote, Lewis repeatedly came across the words “kind,” “passionate” and, most often, “balanced.”
When asked how he would describe his friend, Lewis draws a long breath. “Brett was an unbelievable person,” he says. “He used to make sure everyone felt important — he ensured he had time for everyone. He’d study, get good grades, go out with the boys a couple of nights a week and drive home to his family in Ponoka all the time. He was living such an honest and positive life at such a young age.” His post-graduation plans included starting a BMW dealership with guidance from his father.
It was no surprise to Wiese’s loved ones that "balance" became the one-word motto — printed on a black bracelet still worn by Lewis and many others — at the heart of the criteria for the Brett Wiese Memorial Scholarship Fund. The scholarship is offered annually to a continuing undergraduate student in HSB who is pursuing a Bachelor of Commerce degree, meets the academic merit criteria and whose varied extracurricular activities demonstrate leadership and, yes, balance. More than 70 donors have contributed $200,000 to establish the award, which provides recipients with full tuition for one year.
Proof of the depth of commitment Lewis and others have made to honouring Wiese’s legacy is the current drive to increase the scholarship’s reach. “Our goal is to raise $1 million so that, in perpetuity, we can support one new student every year, right through to convocation,” says Lewis. His devotion to the growth of the scholarship has itself inspired others.
“Colton is, quite simply, an exemplary individual,” says Jim Dewald, dean of the Haskayne School of Business. “Not only has he helped to build a beautiful legacy to his friend by creating scholarships in Brett’s memory, but he showed tremendous dedication to get the scholarship started and well-funded. He’s an inspiration to many of us at the Haskayne School of Business and I’m thrilled that he is being recognized for his hard work.”
Lewis admits he’s likewise thrilled but, true to form, credits his friend with his own success. “I’m living the best way I can for Brett, because he can’t do that,” he says. A meaningful, if bittersweet honour, indeed.